Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Nod to the Posse Queen

It's like Matt said at Ghost Light afterparty last night, "With musical theater, you can do all the things."

The proof was in what I just witnessed: possibly the sweetest birthday tribute to a woman I've ever seen and lousy with musical theater. As one of the guests, I was sworn to complete secrecy - though because it's the theater panel that connects us, I only see her at plays and panel meetings, so I wasn't likely to be the one who blew it - and instructed when to arrive to stage the surprise.

The birthday girl had been fooled into thinking she was going to a cabaret for donors at Richmond Triangle Players, right down to the director reading a speech about the theater's accomplishments when she and her thoughtful husband arrived (intentionally) late. His speech ended with a nod to the real reason we were all there and that was our cue to roar, "Surprise!" and watch her face shift from attentive to shocked.

From there, it was part cabaret/part "This is Your Life," as Richmond luminary after Richmond talent after close friends regaled the celebrant with songs rewritten about her, along with poems, limericks and dramatic presentations written for her.

Scott Wichmann kicked things off doing "The Lady is Our Pat" to the tune of "The Lady is a Tramp," referencing her hatred for the Orange Dictator and her devotion to "the posse," her theater-going coterie, and setting the bar high for those who followed him.

Who else could sing about Pat as an Italian girl with serious cooking chops who found the love of her life in a "pasta-loving Jew" who didn't initially full respect her knives?

One of the men in the posse got up and praised her as thoughtful, considerate friend and fun to be with, before alluding to her dark side, deadpanning that, "Pat can get lost," and providing details of her lack of directional skills navigating the city, and the UR campus particularly.

It was awfully funny, but as someone who took years to come up to speed on that labyrinth of a campus, I empathized with the birthday girl.

Interspersed throughout the show were staged readings depicting everyday conversations between Pat and her husband, all of which demonstrated Pat's iron will, New York moxie and intolerance for fools. One involved Pat making an argument, starting the conversation with "A" and expounding from there. When her beloved asked what B was, she had nothing to say, to which he responded you couldn't have an "A" without a subsequent "B."

"Watch me," the actor playing Pat said, sounding exactly like the woman of the hour.

That beacon of sunshine, Georgia Rogers Farmer, sang both parts on Pat's favorite song from "Phantom of the Opera," whipping the white half-mask on and off depending on which part she was singing. Her vocal range was stunning and the song provided the opportunity for her to show off her operatic talent as well as do a headstand that caused her dress to fall, revealing shorts that said, "PAT" in pink block letters.

Leaving aside for a moment the sheer range of talent demonstrated during said number, afterward Georgia also noted, "Pat, I did that because I know you love that song from 'Phantom of the Opera' and that you wanted to see your name on my butt."

I mean, who wouldn't?

That's a birthday gift not soon forgotten. And that's not even counting the box of bacon she gift-wrapped and presented to Pat. Georgia is, after all, a domestic goddess in addition to her theater talents.

Party Organizer Jacquie O'Connor took a seat at a table onstage, pulled out a datebook and proceeded to sing a song about Pat's major preoccupation, "I Work on the List," a reference to the prodigious scheduling involved with all the posse's theater-going. Between her voice and the hilarious lyrics, the effect was like having a humorous window into Pat's daily life.

The emotional height of the evening took place when her adoring husband got onstage to read to us all the words he'd written and read to her when they married, a moving tribute to how lucky he felt to have found her.

Songbird Desiree Roots - wiping tears away from hearing his devoted words - called the happy couple up onstage and serenaded them, instructing after a moment, "You're supposed to dance!" which they proceeded to do.

After some quiet conversation between the birthday girl and the love of her life as they slow danced - the comment was, "They're discussing who's gonna lead!" - the lyrics became so powerful that Pat looked genuinely moved as they danced.

Singer Susan Greenbaum did a rousing take on "Oklahoma" that transmuted the "Ok" of "Ok-lahoma" to Pat's name and got the guests singing along to the chorus as she belted it out and did an arm jig between verses. The entertainment wound down with a group singalong about the birthday girl, set to the tune of "Mame," which anyone who knows Pat is required to know.

Once we broke for eats, I positioned myself in front of a screen showing photographs of Pat since she was a wee babe in her christening gown. I'm always fascinated to see snaps of people I know from before I knew them and sure enough, I loved seeing old pictures of her in the 70s and 80s when her curly hair was gorgeously wild (her words) and not straightened.

The kind of tresses we straight-haired girls covet. Lust after, even.

And since no birthday celebration, much less an important birthday like this one, would be complete without birthday cake, there were two: one fruit and one chocolate, both from Shyndigz. I can only speak to the latter, but let's just say the butter to salt ratio was swoon-worthy.

Birthdays come and go, so to see a heartfelt tribute by friends on such a festive occasion was like having a sugar buzz as the result of a top-notch show. Oh, wait...

There's a reason Pat always looks so happy. Proof positive that you're never too old to find the person who will dance with you onstage while everyone else toasts your happiness.

And from where I sat, A., it didn't look like either of them was looking to lead. Don't look for a B.

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