written by Neil Badders (Ensemble)
Twenty years ago this spring, I came to Seattle from Houston to begin rehearsals for a production of Mame, starring Juliet Prowse. I was thrilled and a bit nervous, delighted to be part of the first show The 5th Avenue Theatre produced, but apprehensive as to my welcome from the Seattle theater community. Until that time, The 5th Avenue had been a presenting house. With Mame, they began their distinguished track record as a producer.
On that first wonderful day of Mame, I met Seattle actors Cheryl Massey-Peters, Ellen McClain, Judy Ann Moulton and others who immediately made me feel that I was part of their community. Such generosity. Friendships were immediate and lasting. With this production of Hello, Dolly! Cheryl and I are celebrating 20 years of friendship and performing together. I also met a very special lady on the administrative side during that run of Mame who has been a valued part of my life. Marilynn Sheldon is a warm and caring spirit, a grounding presence in the crazy world of theatre. As Managing Director, Marilynn has been a key ingredient in The 5th Avenue Theatre’s success for 30 years.
Nearly ten years ago, I auditioned for and was cast in a production of Anything Goes, starring Dee Hoty. The director was David Armstrong and Anything Goes was his first production as Producing Artistic Director at The 5th Avenue. As “Captain” of the ship, I’m happy to say that David’s directorial debut was a splendid success. During this production, I met Seattle actors Greg Allen (Cornelius), Daniel Cruz and Matt Owen (Ambrose) and worked again with Cheryl. The four of us are working together in Hello, Dolly! with David at the helm.
Three years ago, I played Officer Lonigan in Wonderful Town at The 5th. This time, Associate Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry was directing and the show was a tremendous hit. After Wonderful Town closed, I went back to Texas to visit family. I was to stay for two weeks and stayed nearly three years. During that time, my Dad had his second stroke, a heart attack, bypass surgery and I drove him to 7000 miles of cognitive and physical therapy. I spent most of 2006 as his caregiver and worked part of 2007 and most of 2008 as Admissions Director at two nursing homes in the Houston area to stay close by. My folks are now doing well.
The character of Cornelius’s words following “It Only Takes a Moment” resonate powerfully for me:
"Today I’ve lost so many things. My job, my future, everything that people think is important, but I don’t care. Even if I have to dig ditches for the rest of my life, I’ll be a ditch digger who once had a wonderful day."During my time as a caregiver, I despaired of ever singing on stage again. I was helping my family, doing the right thing. I was successfully working in a corporate marketing job, but missing part of who I am. In October, a phone call came from Seattle, Bill Berry was on the line asking me if I was available for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! My prayers were answered. I took steps to be available. How could I miss out on the opportunity to work once again with my Emerald City theater family at the The 5th Avenue Theatre, to rediscover my joy? I couldn’t and here I am.
So, as we bring Hello, Dolly! starring Jenifer Lewis, to vibrant life, I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been provided by David, Bill and Marilynn and feel absolute joy as I work with the terrific cast, crew, orchestra, designers and staff of The 5th Avenue Theatre. There will be no better gift than to be performing two shows on my birthday, March 22, working with folks I love, during my 30th year as member of Actors Equity. Isn’t the world full of wonderful things?
photo above: Hello, Dolly! cast members Neil Badders & Pat Cashman