We kick off July with Jeff Mead’s TOP FIVE. Jeff has done many, many shows over the past 20+ years and it’s been a privilege to watch him grow as a performer and musician. I am sure you’ll enjoy his TOP FIVE.
In the 26 years that I’ve been involved in community theater, I’ve been involved in more shows than I can remember, on many stages, with many companies, in multiple communities. I’ve had the privilege of working with some truly exceptional and inspiring directors and performers, so narrowing this down to five is no small feat. As I reviewed my resume of highlights, five stood out, for one reason or another. I can’t really put them in any particular order, so I’ll simply give them to you chronologically:
This was the first community theater show I was ever in. I played one of the members of the River City Boys’ Band (“Pah-rump!”). The show was directed by the inimitable Leon Hilfman, a local legend in area theater in the 1970s, ‘80s, and early 90s. I had known Leon before – he directed my mother in Fiddler on the Roof at Washington in 1983 – so even though I was playing such a minor role, to finally get to work with him was really exciting! This show began my life-long love of the theater, and saw the beginning of many cherished friendships that have continued for over 25 years!
4) My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Iowa City Community Theatre, 1994.
Having moved to Iowa City less than a year before, I was on a city bus and happened to look up at one of the overhead posters advertising the season of shows being performed by Iowa City Community Theatre that year, and My Fair Lady and Into The Woods jumped off the page at me. I scribbled down the phone number for the theatre and called them when I got home. Through a series of phone calls, I found out that general auditions for My Fair Lady had already been held the two previous nights, but that callbacks were that evening, and we could drop by and audition then. My mother and I both auditioned, and were both cast, my mom as Mrs. Pierce, the housekeeper, and I in the chorus. One particular memory that stands out from this production was the surprise debut of Madame Priscilla, who, for one night only, filled in as the Queen of Transylvania. Priscilla was, of course, director Michael Stokes’s drag persona. It’s fortunate that the scene was blocked with all of us facing upstage, because when she strutted onto that stage, all dolled up, the entire cast suddenly took on a stunned, “deer-in-the-headlights” look. But we all managed to keep it together long enough for her to make her way up and down the lines of ball-goers before the end of Act I, then once the lights were down, we all scrambled off stage, barely containing our laughter. I had the opportunity of reprising my role for the 2006 ICCT revival, alongside Ron Prosser and Richard Paulus, each reprising their roles as Higgins and Pickering, and Chris Carpenter, Evie Stanske and Jim Verry, but the original 1994 production was something truly magical, and will always remain among my favorites.
3) The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Theatre Cedar Rapids, 2002.
Finally, after 13 years in the theatre, I landed a lead role! And not just any lead role, but one that I’d wanted to play since I was a child: The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz! This was the second production I’d auditioned for with TCR, and there was A LOT of talented guys going for that role, including Michael Tschantz, whose family I’d known since I was a child, and who had played the Lion quite wonderfully in Washington’s production of the show a year or two before. After the initial auditions, Michael and I were called back to read with two or three potential Dorothys (Dorothies?). After that night, the part legitimately could have gone to either one of us, but the next morning when the cast list was made public, I had been cast in the role. I was delighted to learn that my friend, T.J. Besler, had been cast as the Scarecrow, and that Gene Whiteman was cast as the Wizard. And in the role of Dorothy, director Richard Barker took a big chance and cast Catherine Blades, an actual 10-year-old, even though more often than not the part is cast much older because of the vocal range of the music. But holy wow!! That sweet, adorable little girl knocked it out of the park! For those who don’t know, a couple of years after Oz, Catherine was cast as Amarylis in the national tour of The Music Man, and later appeared on Broadway in Bye-Bye, Birdie! with John Stamos. Also of note: after struggling for weeks (perhaps months) on how to handle “the dog”, Richard Barker asked 8-year-old Alex Green (son of KCCK’s Dennis Green), who had originally been cast as a Munchkin, to play Toto, and it was quite possibly one of the most brilliant and adorable ideas, ever!
2) Urinetown by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis. City Circle Acting Company, 2013.
So, I get this random phone call from Jesse Jensen, with whom I had just finished working on Honk! at ICCT, telling me that City Circle had had to make a last-minute change to their season (replacing Spring Awakening after both TCR and the University announced they were also doing the show within the same season), and that he was going to be directing Urinetown in its place, and wondered if I’d be interested in being his musical director. Now, here’s the thing…I was vaguely familiar with Urinetown, having seen a production of it at TCR several years before, but I didn’t really know it very well. But I said yes, anyway, just hoping that I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew. I got a copy of the script and score, and the original Broadway recording, and dove in. What came after turned out to be an absolutely raucously joyful show, with a cast that bonded so well that we had two more cast parties months after the show had closed! And as a side-note, for many of the cast of Urinetown, Peppermint Schnapps will forever be remembered as “Cladwell Juice”!
1) Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Iowa City Community Theatre, 2013.
When ICCT produced Man of La Mancha in 2004, I played Anselmo, one of the Muleteers who abducts and assaults Aldonza, whilst growling through a reprise of “Little Bird, Little Bird”. More than once during that run, I was told by audience members that, if I ever had the chance, I should play Jud in Oklahoma!, because they said I was genuinely scary during that scene. Fast-forward nine years – ICCT is doing Oklahoma!, and I got the part of Jud, playing opposite Joe Mosher as Curly and Megan Kaiser as Laurey, with Josh Sazon directing, and Wes Habley as musical director. Again, our cast bonded beautifully, and with the choreography by Jill and Doug Beardsley, the costumes by Jill Beardsley, Bethany Horning and Jackie Allen, the set by Rich Riggleman (including a “little” windmill, constructed by yours truly), and the fantastic orchestra, we had a great time spinning a fun, tuneful, crowd-pleasing little yarn.
Check back soon for another TOP FIVE. And check out the previous TOP FIVES here:
Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers
Cherryl Moon Thomason
Jeffrey Allen Mead is a student at Kirkwood Community College, and no stranger to Corridor audiences, having performed in countless productions with Iowa City Community Theatre, Washington Community Theater, Theatre Cedar Rapids, City Circle Acting Company of Coralville, and Dreamwell Theatre of Iowa City.