Monday, November 11, 2013

In honor of Veterans Day

My undying gratitude to all the brave men and women who served and are serving in the military.   So in honor of Veterans Day, I thought I would share an anecdote from my ersatz military career.  Some soldiers become infantrymen, others jump out of panes.  I staged a musical. 

Back in the '70s I was in an Armed Forces Radio Reserve unit (my draft number was 4) and to get reservists to re-enlist some General had the brilliant idea that maybe a stage show of singing, dancing weekend warriors with no training or talent would entice them to sign up for another six years. This same General had devised battle strategy for Viet Nam.

Our unit was assigned this task. A group of us had three days to write an entire musical. I wrote several sketches with fellow reservist Joel Siegel (Yes, the same Joel Siegel who reviews movies on GOOD MORNING AMERICA.) We chose a take-off of WEST SIDE STORY. Our songs included “Re-Up” (“I just met a soldier who re-upped…”), “I Feel Pity” (for anyone not making that extra forty dollars a month), “Officer Candidate”, “When You’re a Troop” (you’re a troop all the way, from your first cigarette till your last grade in pay), and “Somewhere” (“Sign your name and you’re halfway there, a pension awaits and is yours to snare”) I still can’t look Stephen Sondheim in the eye. When the army says it will teach you a skill I never thought it would be soft-shoe in combat boots.

For the next THREE years five of us fighting thesps went around to reserve battalions on the west coast and performed this extravaganza, usually to crowds of 200 utterly mystified soldiers who sat wide-eyed with their jaws scraping the ground.

Today shows are preceded by an announcement to turn off your cellphones and beepers. Before our shows the audience was warned that hecklers would be disciplined. And even with the threat of having to scrub toilets with a toothbrush many were compelled to lob verbal grenades our way.

Once, in the middle of the “I Want to Serve in America” dance number, I remember thinking if we did this in Alabama they would storm the stage and kill us.

I guess the USAR figured the mens (sic) would respond to an all-star Bob Hope type USO show. They didn’t realize however, that there is a big difference between Ann Jillian (pictured right) and Ken Levine in a wig.

I’d say roughly 4,000 bewildered grunts saw this show performed. The number of troops who re-upped as a result? Zero.

As a result, the project was scrapped before we could “bring it in” to New York, as they say. It's one thing for a show to close in New Haven. But the 23rd Armory in El Centro?

It was very disappointing. The least a young man can expect after eight weeks of rigorous basic training is a Broadway career.

Again, my wishes on this Veterans Day to all my fellow soldiers and dancers. 

15 comments:

LouOCNY said...

Surprised you didn't find a way to work that into MASH; but it did give you experience writing for Klinger, no?

Mike said...

War is hell. Maggie Smith shows how it's done.

Mitchell Hundred said...

I'm envious that you even have the opportunity to look Stephen Sondheim in the eye. He is great.

slgc said...

Thank you for your service!

Baylink said...

Really and for true:

/Do you have the script?/

Chris said...

And don't forget Joel Siegel put that experience to good use, writing the libretto and receiving a Tony nomination for "The First," a musical about Jackie Robinson.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to people in the military, past and present, the 11th of November is the day of the armistice of World War One. I suppose either choosing or being forced through economic circumstance to serve in the military is worthy of being celebrated. That notwithstanding, more than 16 million people died and another 20 million were wounded. So, quite frankly, I think Veteran's Day is bullshit. I mourn the 36 million, including my grandfather, who suffered for thoughtless assholes who felt death was irrelevant in comparison to pride.

Regards,

Alan Tomlinson

croquemore said...

Thanks for your service Ken. Being from Alabama, I doubt the people here would have stormed the stage. Most would have considered it high art which is even scarier if you ask me.

Again, thanks for your service

Paul Duca said...

Ken...you forgot to correct it to indicate Joel Siegel is no longer with us.

Paul Duca said...

Thanks, Mike...for the link to that scene from OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR--and what you have to remember is that was an actual song from the Great War.

Paul Duca said...

Alan...valid counterpoint. My great-uncle succumbed to his gassing after the Armistice.

Breadbaker said...

To get into the proper spirit of Veteran's Day is to watch the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, where the soldiers are finally sent over the top. It pulls no punches about the horrors of war and the stupidity of sending young men into combat without a real mission.

If we've learned anything in the ensuing 95 years, I don't know what it is.

Cap'n Bob said...

Lucky me. I went to Nam and saw Bob Hope and Raquel Welch.

Michelle said...

"...others jump out of panes..."

The infamous paratrooper window jump platoon. Thanks Ken for acknowledging this oft over-looked and under-recognized portion of our military force.

Also, thanks for your service!

khoges said...

2alan, the day that also honors your grandfather is Memorial Day, where we honor our war dead, Veterans day we honor both our living and deceased Veterans, thus I honor my mother and father who served on foreign shores in ww2 and then came home and had my siblings and me.