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ActorQuest - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Bway 13

In November, Kristin Huffman made her Broadway debut as Sarah (flute, piccolo and sax) in John Doyle's production of Company.  The actress continues her collection of stories about a 15-year career that has led her to the door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Since this Sunday is Palm Sunday, I thought I should include a story I wrote a couple years ago about this same day.  I truly find it hard to separate my "theatre mind" from my real life and so these musings often occur to me.    


Saturday night I received a frantic call from Bill, our church choir director, urgently asking me if I was going to be in church on Sunday. He answered for me with this blackmail loaded threat, "Because if you AREN'T going to be there I will never play piano in the pit orchestra of a high school musical for you EVER again."  Remembering that stressful episode, I soon found myself sitting in the choir loft on Palm Sunday sight reading the second soprano part to an anthem with fifth graders that were singing with the adult choir. Unfortunately, they were no match for the loud sopranos and so I was assigned the job of leading the crowd of palm-branch-bearing boys and girls.

I give Bill a lot of credit for including these youngsters in this anthem. I think of him as a modern day Superman because by "day" he's a geneticist at Yale and by "night" he is our amazing musical director at church. And while he really is very organized and musical, helping our Palm Sunday service to flow, as I sat there drifting during the scripture reading, I began to wonder about that first Palm Sunday. Since I have an overactive imagination, I began to wonder what might have been omitted from that first Palm Sunday production. It says that Jesus sent two disciples to get a colt for him on which Jesus rode into town and everyone spread branches and shouted, "Hosanna!" Orchestrating that event must have required a bit of genius and since John Doyle wasn't around during that time period, I began to wonder who directed it! Very few people are able to both star in a show and direct it so, I concluded, Jesus was not the director. That leaves a few chosen disciples or some of his women followers.  Who was the lucky stiff that had this important job dropped in their lap?

The list of details would be enormous. Let's see: supplying palm branches, city employees to ensure crowd control, someone to hold the "John 3:16" sign, put up no parking signs, starting the "Hosanna to the Son of David" chant, people to do the "wave" and whoop it up, man concession booths and clean up after the donkey. And that's just for starters.

 As I sat in church, exiled to the left side of the choir loft with the fifth graders, little Elise began making some sort of object that required her to tear her palm branch up into little strips and then tie them together. She did it with little rip rip rips and on about her third strip of palm, I leaned over and said "You are going to drive me crazy if you keep doing that." She said "sorry" and quit...for a second. The she tried to go SLOWER with the ripping so that it wouldn't make as much sound.  Who in the First Palm Sunday Crowd was responsible for monitoring the children?  There are always pictures of children waving palms in the old Bible pictures of my childhood. Someone had to stop them from spooking the donkey!  Were there bratty kids at Jesus' Palm Sunday Extravaganza OR did the coordinator provide a nursery for the children and FORCE the parents of those early Palm Sunday events to stick their kids in it?  Did the person producing the original Palm Sunday allow children to tear up the palm branches or did she smack the child in the head like I did after about the twentieth ripping of said item?

Were there dancers who jumped out in front of the "Parade of One" to get the crowd going and if so, who did the choreography?  Maybe I am getting this mixed up with Moses crossing the Red Sea or David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, but think! There had to be some kind of responsible organizing and very present kid wrangler!  Who decided on the "colors" for the banners that would line the streets? And the flyers. How did everyone know what time to come out of their houses and line the streets? For those of us in theater, we simply need to know more about these "stage directions" than what we get from the Gospels.

All in all, however, the first Palm Sunday must've been pretty successful because we are still trying to duplicate the anticipation and excitement of that day. Many churches, like mine, start their services outside and process into the church singing "All Glory Laud and Honor." I wonder if that first Palm Sunday exhibited the same confusion with people singing different measures and the organist… or harp player …desperately trying to find his way into the morass.

Did the first choir find themselves tripping over children running to find their places, and getting whipped in the face with their little palm branch weapons like I did?  Why don't scholars give their attention to something more significant than James Cameron's Tomb of Jesus family, or discovering the Holy Grail, or verifying the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin?

Why don't they find the name of the person who made that First Palm Sunday event so successful, or at least find her day planner!

Photo of Kristin Huffman by Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.


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