When I got the news of my father’s death, I asked for a leave to travel back to Indiana. His funeral was to take place in two days. I had just been cast in the lead in the last national touring company of Oklahoma! We were set to open the next night in New Haven. It was the big break, a dream come true for an eighteen-year-old girl. It had come only months after Ihad moved to New York City to study theater and hopefully to find work.
At the first opportunity during the rehearsal, I had gone over to Jerry White and Richard Rodgers. The director and the composer were seated in the audience of the empty theater in New York. “We don’t have an understudy for you yet, and the place is sold out,” Mr. Rodgers told me in sympathetic but no uncertain terms. He was the Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the legendary duo behind such other Broadway classics as The Sound of Music, The King and I, South Pacific, and Carousel. Jerry White told me about all the publicity they had done. There was a lot riding on this first performance. They went out of their way to tell me how bad they felt about the situation. It made me feel even worse, which almost immediately manifested in a painful medical problem that made me wonder if there was some divine payback as a consequence for my actions. Strange how the mind works, but I’ll get to more on that later.
Ironically, I knew that this dilemma, as gut-wrenching as it was at that moment, was within the natural flow of an improbable, sometimes horrific, and often miraculous young life. Despite the abandonment, neglect, and poverty I experienced as a child, I had an abiding faith I would do better than just survive. I knew with absolute certainty that everything was going to be okay in the end. I felt the undeniable presence of a guiding and protective hand from a higher power above. This gave me a sense of optimism, as if my spirit were still freein spite of my circumstances.
As I look back on that time, I wish I could recapture the unswerving faith of that child. Unfortunately, my doubts grew with time as life circumstances and relationships became more complicated and challenging. Thankfully, my spirituality remained intact and prevented me from the kind of nihilism people often develop in that situation.
That I was standing on the rehearsal stage with this legendary composer was, in my mind, a miracle of sorts. Only a few years earlier, when the conditions around me were at their worst, I would escape from my house to go to the local movie theater. Musicals like Easter Parade were my favorite. I would sing and dance on the street all the way home, mimicking the tunes I had just heard.
I decided at a very young age that performing was what I wanted to do
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