The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Thanks for the Memories

May 7, 2008
Delaware Valley, PA

Do you know the term "run of show"? It's performers' lingo for the printed rundown of every segment in any given revue, vaudeville bill, or other raree show. Submitted below, with abiding gratitude and wonderment, is an annotated run of show for last Friday's kickoff of Pike County's The Grapes of Wrath Big Read at the Delaware Valley High School auditorium, just inside the jagged Pennsylvania slice of the Penn-New York-New Jersey border pie. . .

"JAZZ BAND playing as audience enters under the direction of Lance Rauh

1. WELCOME REMARKS by Jeffrey Stocker"

A word here about Jeff Stocker's American Readers Theatre, the principal grantee for this Pike County Big Read of Steinbeck: Beats me why more theater companies don't apply for Big Read grants. To go by this troupe, rep companies have the showmanship, the elbow grease, and the chutzpah to round up partners all over town and put a Big Read out where everybody can see it. One instance of this is the terrific school participation that A.R.T. has lined up?

"2. GOD BLESS AMERICA MEDLEY" performed by DVHS Band And Chorus under the direction of Gordon Pauling.

I have to confess, I was a mite skeptical of that "GOD BLESS AMERICA MEDLEY." Stocker introduced it by recounting how Steinbeck asked to have the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" printed on the endpapers to the hardcover edition of The Grapes of Wrath. The novel's title comes from the song's lyrics -- written just a couple-three blocks from here, by Julia Ward Howe in the Willard Hotel, as all of us with bumper stickers reading "I Brake for Historical Markers" will tell you. But if the lyrics come from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," why not sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"? Still, any misgivings about the musical offerings were allayed in short order by the return of the high-school Jazz Band, and by some glorious musical surprises farther down the bill?

3. Introduction of DVHS Administration and Faculty by Dr. Candice Finan

4. Art Show on screen projections while Jazz Band plays

5. RED RIVER VALLEY performed by Dingman/Delaware Middle School Chorus under the direction of Brian Krauss"

Here's where some real thought had obviously gone into the program. Up on a scrim behind the singers passed a montage of carefully chosen New Deal images by Dorothea Lange and other photographers for the Farm Security Administration. "Red River Valley" made the perfect followup to this medley, since it crops up not just in the John Ford and Nunnally Johnson's classic movie of The Grapes of Wrath, but in just about every other picture Ford ever directed.

As you might expect of a Big Read ringmastered by a theatrical company, the film component of the Delaware Valley's Big Read is especially strong. They're showing The Grapes of Wrath, of course, but whose inspired idea was it to show Robert Riskin's It Happened One Night, or Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo? Great ideas both, the first for its pure screwball 1930s escapism, the second for its loving evocation of what movies and moviehouses meant to a country sandbagged by the Depression. Speaking of which, the vintage unrestored Milford Theatre in town is a real bijou in the rough. Anybody out there looking for a treasure is hereby enjoined to follow the neon glow to on Catherine Street in Milford, PA..

"6. Introduction of FILM FESTIVAL with showing of original trailer for THE GRAPES OF WRATH by Greg Giblin

7. "SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW" sung by Natasha Paolucci, DVHS student

8. "THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES" sung by Ray Weeks, Pike County HS"

There's nothing like an old standard, belted out for all its worth by a teenager born around the time its copyright expired. Natasha Paolucci fairly sang the stuffing out of Yip Harburg's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," followed by music teacher Ray Weeks plangently crooning "Thanks for The Memories." Just the thing for a Big Read wayfarer like me, pining from the road for the Jonathan Schwartz-programmed High Standards channel of our sainted Big Read partner XM Satellite Radio?

"9. AMERICAN READERS THEATRE read from THE GRAPES OF WRATH screenplay with Jared Feldman

10. JOFFREY BALLET SCHOOL presents "THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD," performed by Danny Ryan and Nicole Padilla, choreography by John Magnus"

By this point, I was discreetly weeping. The whole kickoff was turning into a perfect distillation of the month to come, a sampler of the kind of meal I regrettably never get to stick around for. American Readers Theatre finally got to shine with one early and then one late scene from Nunnally Johnson's Grapes of Wrath screenplay. The latter was Tom Joad's climactic "Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat" speech, which producer Darryl Zanuck used to take credit for with unwary interviewers -- who didn't that know it comes straight from the book.

Then came a mindblower. Turns out the choreographer John Magnus has a place in the area, so he corralled a couple of Joffrey dancers in from Chicago to perform a original pas de deux, set to Bruce Springsteen's haunting "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Lovely, simply lovely.

"11. HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN," performed by Sandy Stalter

12. CLOSING REMARKS by David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives

13. THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND," performed by Natasha and Jared, with sing-along"

In between Franklin Roosevelt's campaign song "Happy Days Are Here Again" and America's shadow national anthem, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land "-- in its true uncensored version, no small mercy -- I took the microphone and snorfled out my lachrymose thanks for about double the allotted five minutes. Why had I never heard of Milford, Pennsylvania, before? Why haven't you? All I know is, I wouldn't have traded my aisle seat in the Delaware Valley High School Auditorium for Joel Cairo's own orchestra seats at the Geary Theater in San Francisco.

There followed wine, cheese, and a whole lot of grapes, and at last a sorrowful look at the American flag bunting that became Abraham Lincoln's impromptu death shroud, which reposes at, of all places, the Milford Historical Society. Then a festive wrap party hosted by Jeff Stocker and A.R.T. trouper Greg Giblin -- who, I suspect, did a lot more of the heavy lifting for this thriving Big Read than he was letting on -- and, belatedly, back to the nearby Port Jervis Comfort Inn for a warm bed and a too-early wake-up call. . .