I was in the process of entitling this piece “requiem,” but a requiem is a composition for the already dead, and you aren’t and won’t be. Not allowed. Then I thought of “World Without Peter”, but that wouldn’t do either. As long as those who love, admire and remember you are walking the earth, you will be with us and there can be no world without
Not so very long ago, you came into my life as a ninth grader when I was teaching drama at Berkeley High (Well, it was actually West Campus, not Berkeley High proper, but, lordy, you know the rest of the world doesn’t want to hear about that.) You recall we were to do a musical with a cast made up of ninth graders only. Elliott and I settled quickly on Cabaret. Kind of juicy for ninth graders (you probably didn’t think so), but the male vocals aren’t too demanding, which you know is a major criterion for youngsters. Plenty of female parts. Also a major criterion. And as for you? Even then you could play show piano like nobody’s business.
Well, we did that show to loud applause, and in the process discovered a whole troupe of singers, dancers, actors, and outstanding human beings who went on to perform one show biz miracle after another from Pajama Game to Company and beyond. And you were still the center of the whole group. And come graduation, it didn’t stop.
Many of you in that sterling group went on to higher ed. and professional theater careers. I was privileged to share in all that by virtue of directing most of the Berkeley High shows and becoming friends with many of you. It was an experience richer than most college and many professionals ever touch. And you were still at the center of it all. Whether at the piano or singing or acting, if you touched it, it turned to gold.
Somewhere, in the midst of all this, the way I remember it, you and I decided to create a show of our own. I was the writer, having done some playwriting and song writing. (You’re no slouch at lyrics yourself, of course.) The idea of working with you, an already accomplished musician even at that young age, was heady. How to choose a project, though?
I don’t recall the process we went through to decide on a play about Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper? A musical? Yep. I’m sure the choice had something to do with your adoration of Stephen Sondheim. I’m sure as well that the influence of Sweeney Todd came to bear. All that matters not, though. We finally came up with a show we called Whitechapel, after the hard-knocks district on London’s East End where Jack the R. did his bloody work.
To my surprise and gratification, after you matriculated at Yale, you eventually arranged for Whitechapel to become a senior project not only for yourself, the composer, but for a number of other Yalee’s as well. Set design. Costume design, etc. You assembled a marvelous company. Me, I stayed back in Berkeley teaching and communicating with the production as best I could while everyone else was in New Haven creating and rehearsing.
Then came production time. I flew east for a week or so. The performance venue was a dining hall, but we uninitiated needed to toss out any images we might have had of a typical college cafeteria-style eatery. This is a stone, high-ceiling, Gothic Revival space entirely evocative of the late nineteenth century atmosphere of poverty and violence our play demands. One slight problem was that people insisted on eating there. Daily. No respect for us artists. Thus, each day we moved furniture and scenery back and forth and created our Victorian hell. Then, rehearsal over, we put it all back together for the next day’s feast.
You, of course, had been the main inspiration for the whole project. As the music director, you had enormous responsibility, and you had garnered enormous respect from the entire company from crew to orchestra to cast. Looking back, I marvel at what a stupendous achievement it all was. And, oh, we had those dreams of skipping off from New Haven to Broadway. That didn’t happen, but what did happen was the creation of what the hundreds of those of us involved in creating it, and all the spectators privileged to see and hear it, remember as a perfectly splendid piece of theater. More important, it was and will always be one important aspect of my life with you,
My eternal love to you