I sometimes wonder if the experience of playing Sky Masterson in a production of Guys and Dolls is enough to give you a lifelong boost, or if instead everything after that is kind of a letdown.
My high school put on a production the spring of my freshman year, and of course I had a huge crush on the guy who did play Sky Masterson, who was tall, dark, and handsome (and sang a hell of a lot better than Marlon Brando, although that’s not really saying much). I tried out but did not get a part, there being few roles suited to fat girls with marginal acting skills in that show (singing “House of the Rising Sun” at my audition was, in retrospect, perhaps also a poor choice — I thought I had a rendition down pretty well, but the expression on the face of the director would suggest otherwise). I then had high hopes of getting to be in the pit orchestra — I’d been offered a spot, even — but then it turned out that the score had no viola part. So I had to settle for sitting in the audience. I went the last night, because that was always the best show. (Our theatre was so small that the swing choir had to hold two shows a night for two nights in a row in order to accommodate everyone. It was always best to go to the last show on the last night, because it had the best special acts and it also invariably had the most insanity, like the time all the guys came on stage without their socks on and the director stopped the show to make them go back and put them on.)
It was fabulous.
Well, no, I’m sure it wasn’t. There were a few less than great performances; I knew that even then. But Nathan Detroit was good, and Sarah Brown was good, and Adelaide was amazing, and — well, I’m probably still not in a position to give a fair assessment of Sky Masterson. When you are fifteen years old and grew up on MGM musicals and the senior guy you have a crush on is singing “Luck Be a Lady” and throwing his whole body into it — well, let us just say that your critical faculties are not exactly fully engaged.
Years later I ran into him at a party. He was still tall, dark, and handsome, but I didn’t recognize him until he introduced himself. I was riding rather high by then — recently accepted into a supposedly prestigious graduate program, writing a newspaper column, making new activist friends. It wasn’t the sort of party where you sat and caught up with people. I got invited because I knew some of the hosts, a group of guys who swallowed fire and lay on beds of nails and so on. They all lived in an old house on Dubuque Street, and the place had been decked out as an ongoing art installation for the party — the part I remember was a room filled with old televisions, all tuned in some fashion so their screens displayed a different, vibrant color. Somehow, though, the word “party” had drifted down to the dorms nearby, and so by the time I got there, the place was packed half with art students and activists and half with guys with identical haircuts and Abercrombie tshirts looking around confusedly and saying, “Dude. . . where’s the keg?”
So I don’t know how Sky Masterson was doing by then. According to Facebook, he seems to be doing well now — married, kids, good job, etc. But that moment when he recognized me and I did not recognize him threw me off and continues to do so. I always thought that certain kinds of success could insulate you from whatever other turns your life took, that somehow, if you’d had that kind of moment even once, that kind of “Glory Days” moment where you hit the ball or made the run or sang the solo or simply looked dazzling for one evening of your life — I thought if you had that, it would last. It would define your life from then on.
I was wrong, of course — even the Bruce Springsteen song makes it clear just how wrong I was, but I hadn’t really listened to it then. I was twenty-four and still waiting for that moment to come, unaware that I was living in it already.