Corrections or additions?

This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the November 17, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

From ‘My Fair’ to ‘Montclair’

What do William S. Gilbert, Richard Rodgers, and Frederick Loewe have

in common? Yes, they all wrote the music for highly successful and

lasting musicals, and they all partnered with a librettist who wrote

the book and the lyrics for their songs. Think Gilbert and Sullivan,

Rodgers and Hart, then Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Loewe.

But they have something else in common.

All three musicians have had the songs of their musicals parodied by

Martin Rome of Princeton. Rome does not follow the stories of the

musicals he parodies; he uses the music but writes the lyrics, then

devises the story linking the songs. It’s his use of the original

rhyme scheme as much as possible and the rhyming of the original

lyrics that adds to the audience’s pleasure. (He’s permitted to use

this copyrighted music put to his own lyrics as long as he doesn’t

charge.)

Rome’s latest, "Montclair Lady," a parody of "My Fair Lady," is being

presented by 55PLUS to the public free of charge on Thursday, November

18, at 10 a.m. at the Jewish Center during the regular meeting time of

55PLUS. Murray Reich directs. Sandy Maxwell accompanies on the piano

and is musical director. The live performance is scheduled for

one-time only, but Albert Medwin, an electronics engineer patent

holder who worked for RCA before opening his own consulting business,

will videotape the show, and it will air later on TV 30, the cable

television arts show that originates on Princeton’s cable Channel 8.

Set in the fictional Montclair Clinic in northern New Jersey in the

recent past, "Montclair Lady," is performed without scenery, and the

actors/singers will have scripts in hand. (In only one Rome parody

were the lines memorized.) But this is not your usual ragged amateur

production. The actors/singers are quite skilled, the voices fine and

strong. ("Sheasley is our resident baritone," says Rome.) Five of the

men and one of the women – Derry Light (Dr. Susan Donnelly, head of

surgery) – were in Rome’s "South Passaic." Rehearsals, 10 in all,

began in September.

The lyrics are the key to the show, which is a spoof of medical care.

Clever, sophisticated, and contemporary, they’re a delight. For

example, songs include "Let a Surgeon in Your Life" ("Let a Woman in

Your Life"), "I’ve Grown Accustomed to the Pace," sung by a

newly-retired trial lawyer ("I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face"),

"With a Little Nip and Tuck" a paean to cosmetic surgery ("With a

Little Bit of Luck"), and "The Claim of Pain" ("The Rain in Spain").

Medwin computer-integrated the show’s lyrics to the original music.

55PLUS is a non-sectarian men’s club founded in 1986 by Murray Reich

to foster social contacts and friendships among retired men, or men

with flexible working hours. Meeting dates and upcoming speakers are

posted on its website, www.princetonol.com/groups/55PLUS. (A

contribution of $2 – payable at the door – covers the cost of cookies,

tea, or coffee.) Most of the men live in the immediate Princeton area

but some drive from miles away. Some women, including this reporter,

come, too.

Many of the actors in the shows are white-haired, and nearly all of

the male actors come regularly to 55PLUS, which has no officers, no

by-laws, and no dues. People are notified of meetings by E-mail.

Medwin sends E-mails (the list has grown to 581) before each meeting.

For the few who are still unwired, Jerry Berkelhammer, a tennis player

and organic chemist, who was executive director of American Cyanamid’s

Agricultural Research Division, uses the U.S. mail to keep about 30

people informed of 55PLUS activities, for a small fee.

Rome has written five complete parodies of shows. "South Passaic" was

performed last season. The others are "Oklahoma.com," "The Pirates of

Pittsburgh," and "The Movado" – the last two are from what Rome calls

his "Gilbert and Sullivan period."

Rome became interested in doing parodies when he saw a poor parody

years ago, and thought he could write a better one. Rome is a

physicist who spent most of his career in technical management. He has

a Ph.D. from Brooklyn Polytechnic in physics. He was general manager

of the local Sclumberger subsidiary, where he worked on scientific

space exploration. His field of expertise is photoelectricity. "I’ve

written so many corporate reports and presentations that the

transition to parody wasn’t that difficult," says Rome, who directed

his first three parodies.

Reich directs "Montclair Lady," and also directed "South Passaic." How

did Reich, a chemist, who took one directing course 40 years ago,

become the director? "Marty asked me to," he says simply. "It’s a

challenge," he adds. "He has good ideas," says Rome, "and a sense of

the dramatic."

Reich, a graduate of City College of New York, earned a master’s in

polymer chemistry at Akron University, a master’s degree in counseling

from Trenton State at night while working in chemistry, a doctorate in

gerontology at Teacher’s College, Columbia, while doing part-time

consulting in chemistry, and taught college courses in ethics, the

psychology of aging, and human development, and worked at the

Institute on Aging at Rutgers.

When asked to consult at Tyndale Plains-Hunter, a leading edge

plastics firm, he said he didn’t know that kind of plastic, as he

recounted in a U.S. 1 article (January 7, 1998), but the owner thought

he could do it. He became the firm’s president. Professing and

personifying flexibility of mind, body, and spirit, especially for the

aging, he’s taken modern dance, choreography, and Tai Chi. "Each of

us, at our own level, is asked to do things," he says. "The people who

say yes meet other people and have fun."

The men in the show are an eclectic group. Several have been in other

Rome productions. Don Sheasley (Joe Loomis, the trial lawyer) has sung

numerous operatic roles with a multitude of New Jersey opera

companies, including the Princeton University Opera Theater and Opera

Festival, and has appeared in concerts and oratorios throughout

eastern Pennsylvania and the New York-New Jersey area.

Milt Keiles (corporate attorney, friend of Joe’s), a former English

teacher with a master’s degree in English, is a mechanical engineer

from Brooklyn Polytech who had his own software company in East

Brunswick. He is a certified barbecue judge in the Kansas City

Barbecue Society (KCBS.org), took a class in barbecue tasting,

collects hockey pucks, and had done a lot of local theater until 1973.

He came out of two decades of retirement from theater for a role (or

three) in "South Passaic." He is also a guest lecturer on cruise

ships.

Joel May (Dr. Willi Wiggins, medical director of Montclair Clinic) is

a former economics professor who taught at the Graduate School of

Business at the University of Chicago, then at the School of Public

Health at UMDNJ. He has an MBA and Ph.D. in economics and statistics

from the University of Chicago.

Tony Parisi (Dr. Pine, staff physician) has a master’s in vocal

performance from what was then Trenton State College, sang with the

Opera Festival of New Jersey for 13 years and with "La Boheme Opera

Company" in Trenton.

Simon Marchand (Dr. Maple, staff physician) has a degree in

publishing, a master’s from NYU, and has worked as an editor.

Sandy Maxwell, the pianist and musical director, is new to the group,

brought in by a friend. A professional and a member of ASCAP, Maxwell

(who is doing this gig at no charge) is 86, grew up in the area, and

lives in Princeton. He plays at birthdays and weddings and has had his

own band for 40 years. He also had an advertising agency business in

New York. He began writing songs when he was a member of the Triangle

Club at Princeton from 1935 to 1939. He played for five years at

Scanticon, now the Doral Forrestal.

Some of the men also do volunteer work. Sheasley is a longtime

volunteer reader at Recording for the Blind and Dyslectic. May teaches

computer skills to seniors in Ewing, reads to the blind at the New

Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped, and sings in Princeton

Pro Musica and the Hopewell Valley Community Chorus. Others from

55PLUS volunteer to work the phones for NJN-TV, help with the twice

monthly American Red Cross blood drives, and tutor students at

Princeton High School, and adults at the Trenton Soup Kitchen.

Among the women Derry Light (Dr. Susan Donnelly) is a professional

actor. She has toured the U.S. and Europe, appeared at McCarter, does

voice-overs, and teaches chorus at the Princeton Montessori School.

Shirley Kauffman (Zeeta Pinger, Animal Rights activist, Ms. Edith

Hamilton, business woman, and Ms. Y, a middle-aged woman) studied with

Stella Adler years ago and has acted professionally in local shows.

Now a political activist, she’s on the Princeton Borough Zoning Board.

Barbara Parmet (Dr. Joan Franklin, third year fellow at the clinic)

sings and has a flamenco dance in the show. She does flamenco and

Middle Eastern dancing for private parties and has acted

professionally.

Who is Montclair Lady? She’s several women, and, like Eliza Doolittle,

they all get makeovers. Get thee to the center on time. Join the fun.

Montclair Lady, a production of the 55PLUS group,

Thursday, November 18, at 10 a.m., at the Jewish Center on Nassau

Street. Free, $2 voluntary contribution.


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