News Column

Making merry staging Redlands' history

November 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 10--I will not be doing a review of the musical "Redlands, My Redlands," which is a journey through the city's history in honor of our 125th anniversary of incorporation, because I am in it.

My part is much bigger than my talent warrants, but I'm having a blast and hope you'll come and find my and the other cast members' exuberance contagious.

The show was custom written by 1982 Redlands High School graduate Jim Skousen and Alexis Rafter, and for those who know their Redlands history, you will feel winked at in rapid fire for 90 minutes.

For those that don't. Keep reading. I'll have you prepared to catch the nods and inside jokes by the end of the page.

The show is not a cutesy skit from a couple of hometown folks with real jobs who dabble in theater. This is what these Redlanders do, and they have awards for it. The anniversary mined for talent and hit the mother lode.

Over about a year they developed characters defined to us only by their accomplishments. They scripted both witty and physical comedy. And they composed a diverse score.

The score is the wow factor. When we all first heard the songs it was exciting. Every song is Broadway hot. You'll want to buy the CD.

As I have probably said in my many reviews, I am a musical theater person right down to my toes. The second I heard this was happening, I planned to audition. I put on my yellow go-go boots, (David Chenoweth, RHS drama, 1986: "Audition in memorable clothes"), belted out a few bars of Kander and Ebb and began what I knew would be a time commitment equivalent to a part-time job.

In the beginning of our story we dig the Sankey.

That's right, I spelled it wrong. As you also probably know from my columns, my degree is in linguistics. I assert strenuously and emotionally that it's wrong to say "Zan-ha." (This may be an inappropriately long digression.)

The history of it is that the guy writing stuff down way back when didn't know how to spell Zanja and now we all grew up not using the original pronunciation. What matters more is that we have all said it that way for decades. That's how words evolve.

Here's where linguistics enters in. People use language to make themselves a group. People create a bit of jargon akin to an inside joke. Professions do it; age groups do it; families do it; and regions do it.

"Sankey" is the secret word you say at the door to Club Redlands to identify yourself as a member.

Skousen has no idea I feel this way, but I am happily cast on the right side of this fight.

The Sankey dug, Don Lugo takes the deed to this land and changes the name from Guachama (land of plenty to eat) to Lugonia. Then the Mormons trade oxen and wagons for it and build here until Brigham Young directs them to relocate. Benjamin Barton takes the deed next.

We don't linger on any of this. It's a great way to incorporate walks-on by members of city government. They are our show's celebrities.

Judson and Brown show up, buy the land and suggest changing the name yet again, this time to let nearby towns know about the rich red soil, to lure people who may want to plant.

Here's where I come in. My job is to object to this, to hold back this name-changing devil, tent-revival style. I'm wagging my fingers and making my sing-it-sister face, per direction.

Skousen has taken liberties with the personalities of our town's historical figures. Don't be expecting what you picture reading history books.

The Smiley Brothers, for example, are young men, squabbling some as one chases skirts. Their tap dancing doesn't evoke the solemn portrait in the library, but it sure is fun.

Also, the city council answers all questions in barbershop quintet. I am composing an editorial suggesting our current council adopt this practice. It's most enjoyable.

After oranges are introduced in our story, we perform our big packinghouse scene, where the Orange Queen, which we used to crown here, sings a ragtime ditty about why Redlands is great. She's portrayed by Skousen's wife Tina, who works at Esri and is the music director of the show. She sounds like a Disney princess.

Next, a Redlands Daily Facts paperboy heralds the time-bending simultaneous arrival of presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The legendary Miss Fackler shows them the poem she makes her Kingsbury pupils recite and the Pledge of Allegiance is born.

We transition from there to the building of the university, and we sing Bulldog Eric Goddard's Gregorian style four-part harmonic chant of the Och Tamale we wrote about last week. In that story I went on at length whining about how hard it is, especially for us altos. I should have mentioned it's also beautiful.

We will go through the freeze of 1913 with a ballad about the poor little orange, sung by a character named Julie (Dylan Petersen, 9), a child who is the thread that holds the show together. She is witness to the whole evolution of our community. She is cute as a button and has been totally professional throughout the rehearsals.

Grace Mullen, played by Redlands' own musical theater superstar, Debbie Prutsman, has her vision, without which the people would perish, or at least live without a Bowl, and then we have the ballet scene.

This needs some back story, based on the questions I'm getting from my castmates. Here it is: In 1962 Ruth Smiley Drake, daughter of Daniel, the youngest Smiley brother, offered the brothers' world famous botanical gardens (Canon Crest Park) to the city for $200,000, saying she couldn't maintain it on her own (it had been open to the public and a real destination.) The city declined and in 1963 the land was sold to a developer, who brought in the bulldozers and erected homes in what we now call Smiley Heights.

This is illustrated cleverly in the musical, with children and families enjoying the grounds, and then a balletic monster comes and whips up a cyclone of destruction. In reality, the park closed to the public in 1936. There are no lines or lyrics, just dancing.

From there we check in at Prospect Park, where Avice Meeker Sewall, Helen Fisk and Kay Lake (me) are saving it from becoming a mobile home park. We ladies' parts are written as hippies, to illustrate the era it happened and for loads of fun.

We are solid gold with our hippie portrayals, but I have just learned that Lake was active at the Footlighters and her daughter is one of my neighbors. Lake was not a hippie. Please indulge our re-creation of history. Skousen means to honor the accomplishments of all of these people, to show respect, even with our silliness.

We zoom through the Y Circus and the Bicycle Classic, meet Jack Dangermond and sing the finale.

As I write this, we're eight days from opening night; as you read it, we're five.

And I wrote too long; I'm late for rehearsal.

___

(c)2013 the Redlands Daily Facts (Redlands, Calif.)

Visit the Redlands Daily Facts (Redlands, Calif.) at www.redlandsdailyfacts.com

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