Hey Kids, Let's Put On A Show
Up until Howard and I were in our teens, we lived on a block of row houses called Flannery Lane. These were not the classic Baltimore row houses that tour books talk about, with their marble steps scrubbed each morning by frazzled housewives. And they weren’t the low-rent, high-camp digs of John Waters, either. These were cheap suburban brick houses with porches in front and alleys in back, built on the border of Baltimore City and Baltimore County, suitable for white flight and low taxes. Because Howard was Howard, there were always plans to put on a show in the basement. And also because Howard was Howard, he was the creator of those plans.
Howard must have been taken early with the notion of adapting material for the stage, since his first known play, produced in 1960 when he had just turned 10, was L’il Abner’s Pork Chops. Tiny masters of publicity even then, we donated the proceeds of our production to the victims of a devastating earthquake in Chile, bringing out a reporter from the Baltimore Sun who wrote that L’il Abner’s Pork Chops was:
“An original play, written, produced, directed and acted in by Howard Ashman…”
I don’t remember much of the show, which is understandable since I was six at the time, but I imagine it was somewhat derivative of the 1956 hit musical and 1959 hit film, L’il Abner.
I do remember jumping out of a trash can (perhaps we had more sibling rivalry than I realized) wearing a ragged rabbit fur stole donated by someone’s doting mother and playing a character named Appassionata Von Climax. I had no idea why that was considered particularly funny.
There was a truly humiliating moment in one of Howard’s shows, though. I was a few years older and we were doing highlights from Gypsy. We didn’t think small on Flannery Lane.
I was to play young June and sing “Let Me Entertain You.” Howard wanted me to jump through a hula hoop held vertically by two stagehands and then begin my song (Yes, we had stagehands – the boys who wouldn’t be caught dead singing and dancing but still wanted to be in on the attention we got. I do think it’s indicative of Howard’s charisma that these guys joined in – or maybe it’s indicative of their strong-arming mothers.)
During the rehearsals, I jumped through the hoop held by the two boys with no problem. But it didn’t really have much scenic value. So Howard had the boys cover it with paper and paint the whole thing. It looked great but we didn’t bother rehearsing with the paper on before the show.
We should have bothered.
Let me just tell you that newspaper, masking tape and paint is a truly strong combination and our stagehands had been exceptionally thorough. I couldn’t get through.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I punched, tore, probably even kicked my way through that damned hoola hoop – singing the entire time.
I didn’t much appreciate the laughter that greeted me.
Sadly, or maybe not, there’s no photo of my Gypsy humiliation. But, thanks to my grandfather, who scrapbooked before it was considered a craft, I do have the Baltimore Sun article.
Here it is: