Glee Recollected

Kings College Glee Club 1946 -50, by Donald Lang

A few weeks short of 13, and still with a few vocabulary challenges, I went to a meeting to discuss the proposed production. When a couple of roles were outlined,  I remarked a lot more loudly than I would have dared even a month later, “ That calls for a prefect.” In the event there were two school prefects on stage, one second in command to the dictator and the other playing a second rate detective. The hero was there because he had a fine tenor voice and a romantic presence. He also happened to be intersecondary schools hurdles champion. That could have added glamour. The dictator, who on stage was a comic villain, was played by a young man more famous  off stage as heir to a large media business. There was a henpecked American millionaire Hiram Q. Spink, current third spouse of Annabel a lady “…yearning for passion and romance,…and all I have is a dyspeptic old market rigger with about as much passion as a squeezed lemon”. I find that they are all quite clear in my mind along with the entirely rich [heiress] female love interest Miss Lola Gonzales played by the best treble in the chapel choir. There was ‘vamp’ with assistants and of course a considerable chorus. I was there in what I suppose is ‘drag’. It was all stimulating. I do remember one rehearsal when I became too rapt in what was happening on stage. I was watching when I should have been singing. LCMS was not rapt in my performance and told me that if I did it again I would not be on stage at all. I met specs after that. The school orchestra, with a considerable string section, supported the show magnificently. It still comes back to me if I hear strings tuning up before any performance.

The ‘season’ was late in the second term, and the final event of that term was the school dance.  After the years of San Marino, and at the end of the dance, members of the glee club company lined up and sang  the signature number “San Marino Island Fair…” I don’t think I was present on that occasion. The dance was for senior members of the school. I was present four years later.

In 1947 the performance was the Mikado. Then or for years afterward I believed I could have prompted the show without a script. My elder sister came to see me in a black wig entering the stage in a line that sang as it came. “Comes a train of little ladies…” She remarked that it was the first occasion when she had seen me as having a resemblance to my mother. I understood the abiding charm of G&S and, locally, I remember  with delight the succession of ever more abominable “vegetables” in the encores for the “Flowers that bloom in the Spring”

The end of 1947 closed the College early as a polio epidemic gathered force. We had an extra month or more of “summer holiday  with correspondence lessons” at the beginning of 1948. Individual taste placed more emphasis on the lessons or the holiday. In the middle of the year the College was in quarantine for two weeks after a case of polio struck there. The plan had been for a performance of  “ Pirates” . G&S had to be deferred, and there was no “plan B”.

I find I cannot place the year in which a number of the trebles in the school were recruited for a short season as part of the cast of Carmen down town.  I was never in consideration so I think it must have been after my voice started to break. It may well have been during that lost year of 1948.

I expected in 1949 to take part in “Pirates” but instead there was “The Yeomen of the Guard”.  My voice having broken, I was one of the citizens. We were rather scruffy when compared with the magnificent yeomen. Brian Harris made his final appearance as a female lead and Tony Blomfield was a magnificent Jack Point. This was the occasion when Mr Hogg was most impressed. He was the former professional who taught boxing at the College, and he blew a magnificent brass instrument in the orchestra. He said out loud, loud enough for me to hear about it, that he thought the College should put the show on the stage down town. Nothing came of it.

My last year of school was 1950. Once again the “Pirates” appeared on the agenda.  Late in the first term the casting was destroyed when the leading tenor decided it was time to move on, and left the College. I was unaware of this until Mr Saunders came up to me and asked if I thought I could ‘do’  Hiram Q. Spink. I remember it as great fun.  The imprinting four years before is still more clear in my mind. We gave an extra performance some weeks after the end of our ‘season.’ The College was hosting a visiting rugby team, New Plymouth Boys High I think. It was rather more relaxed in all respects, and there were more missed lines and cues than I want to remember. It was still fun, and our final appearance was at the school dance.

There was more, and I think in 1950. More seriously Mr Saunders put on stage “Let’s Make an Opera.” By that stage I was involved in exams but of course attended. I suspect at the time I privately thought it would never replace G&S.

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