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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.