The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 27, 2013

The beat goes on

Michele Mikesic Bender
For The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — In 1957, my stage-struck mom took my friend Jere and me to see the movie “South Pacific.” It featured awesome scenery, colorful costumes, catchy show tunes and unforgettable characters. It rolled the best of stage and cinema into one package. We were hooked!

The 1950s and ’60s overflowed with musicals, and we saw them all. It didn’t faze us a bit when normal-seeming folks on the screen suddenly burst into song.

Westmont High School presented its first musical in 1961. I was in seventh grade.

My Aunt Ro phoned Mom. Marcia, the daughter of a friend of hers, was starring in “Oklahoma!” My aunt, Mom and I attended the show.

Back then, legendary teacher Margery Kaufman led the music department. A dynamic visionary, she procured professional-quality backdrops, costumes and more to bring us a slice of the Big Apple.

The show amazed us, as promised. Marcia played Shirley Jones’ part flawlessly and, for the finale, they had a real horse pull the surrey with the fringe on top.

Marcia changed her name to “Jana Robbins” and enjoyed a career as a B-list performer. I don’t recall her being in any musicals, but she appeared frequently in TV dramas. Last week she popped up in a “Law and Order” rerun.

I joined the chorus in 10th grade. Visions of musical grandeur filled my dreams, despite the fact that I couldn’t carry a tune in a backpack.

Mrs. K assigned me to “wardrobe.” The senior boy who played Captain Von Trapp in our production of “The Sound of Music” was a total, utter, smokin’ hot hunk. Midway through the second act, he popped a button off his shirt. The closest I came to Broadway greatness was sewing the button back on his shirt – with him in it!

 Another exceptional music instructor, Beth Good, followed when Mrs. K retired, and the high caliber of hilltop musicals continued. Alas, time flies, and Mrs. G announced her plan to retire after this school year.

Aunt Ro called with more news. My cousin Frank’s stepdaughter would star in “Into the Woods,” a contemporary musical intertwining several famous fairy tales. Restless  characters, weary after being locked into their storylines for years, decide to venture out and join the real world. Their struggles convince them that the grass is not always greener.

Here I sat again with Aunt Ro and family, more than 50 years later, watching another budding starlet.

The costumes and sets wowed us, but the poise and professionalism of the student cast was outstanding.

I knew Madalynn had participated in other productions and had competed successfully in numerous pageants. Already an accomplished young performer, this wouldn’t be her first rodeo. But her portrayal of Cinderella dazzled us all.

Mrs. Good received a fitting farewell tribute.

Beginnings … graduations, retirements … sparkle all around us.

We oughta sing a song, don’tcha think?

 C’mon ... “And the beat goes on, the beat goes on!”

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