I hope you are well as you read this blog post.
So far this winter I’ve managed to avoid being infected by the flu, strep, Covid, RSV, and the common cold — all of which are leaping from one human host to the next here in the Boston area.
Maybe it’s because I remain an ardent wearer of face masks whenever I am indoors — leading Music Together classes, performing at retirement communities, shopping for groceries at Trader Joe’s, riding public transportation, or going to see a movie.
Deep breath of gratitude in.
Deep breath of gratitude out.
As some of you may be aware from news I’ve shared on Facebook, I was invited to participate in a 50th anniversary reunion concert with (most of) the remaining members of the original cast of the musical PIPPIN at a nightclub called 54 Below in the theater district of Manhattan.
I wrote a blog post in 2016 about my time as a standby for the role of Theo in PIPPIN when I was ten years old which you can read by clicking here if you are curious.
After I wrote that post — in which I wondered if any of the original cast members remembered me — I nosed around online to try and find contact information for any other original cast members.
I found one listed as a teacher at a performing arts school in Colorado — with what appeared to be a current email address — and sent her a message.
I was very touched to receive an enthusiastic reply in which said that she DID remember me!
She also shared that the remaining members of the cast stayed in regular contact — and that she specifically recalled a conversation we once had backstage about how I felt no pressure from my parents to stay in show business as I grew older.
I don’t remember that conversation, but it rings true…
Neither of my parents had any experience with the advertising/entertainment industries, but my mom had grown up in Queens, NY, and every summer my siblings and I and my mother would return to her childhood home and stay with my grandmother for a couple of months while my father stayed at our home in Washington, DC (he worked for the Department of Agriculture) and commuted up on the weekends to visit.
In 2017 I also wrote a blog post about how much I loved my summers at 47-39 197th Street — right on the border between Bayside and Flushing — and what it was like doing commercials, voice-overs, TV shows and movies as a child and teenager which you can read by clicking here if you are curious.
After I learned that I’d been cast as a standby in PIPPIN, I remember sitting on the brick stoop in front of my grandmother’s house and thinking very excitedly that my life was about to change…
And it did.
I think my parents said “Yes” to me being a standby A) because they thought it would be fascinating to see how a Broadway musical is put together; B) because PIPPIN would be previewing at the newly-constructed Kennedy Center in Washington, DC (where we had lived for seven years); and C) because most Broadway musicals end up failing…
But PIPPIN did not fail, and I ended up living year-round at my grandmother’s house — which meant that I could audition a lot more (for commercials, voice-overs, made-for-TV movies, and plays), and my career as a child performer took off.
Until it gently crashed back to earth a few years later, and I entered a prep school called Hotchkiss.
But that is another story.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
In the fall of 2021 I was surprised to be contacted by a journalist who was writing a book about how PIPPIN came to be created.
After stressing to her that I had just been a ten-year-old standby for the very small role of Theo and probably had nothing important or insightful to share with her, she still wanted to interview me.
So we had a pleasant phone call and — to my surprise…. as well as my chagrin — I ended up being quoted a couple of times in her book, MAGIC TO DO, which came out in October 2022 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of PIPPIN opening at the Imperial Theatre in NYC.
My third PIPPIN-related surprise was being contacted last summer by the original standby for the role of Pippin, Walter Willison, who has had an illustrious career in the entertainment industry.
He told me he was organizing a 50th Anniversary musical event at a lovely club in Manhattan called 54 Below which would feature original members of the cast.
And he wondered if I’d be willing to join this musical adventure.
I reminded him that I had only been the standby for the role of Theo.
But he very patiently persisted with his invitation, and — with equal amounts of excitement and fear — I finally agreed.
Another deep breathe in.
And deep breath out.
I found his invitation to be quite profound because I have had an anxiety dream at least once a year for the past fifty years in which I am asked to fill in at the last minute for one of the cast members in PIPPIN.
In this nightmare I gamely attempt to learn (and/or recall) the necessary dialogue, choreography and blocking while being rushed into someone else’s costume…
Then the curtain rises, and I hit the stage with everyone else, and I try to keep up with what’s happening all around me…
And then I wake up in a cold sweat.
So Walter was basically inviting me to live out this dream/nightmare in real life with most of the remaining original cast members as my companions!
One more deep breath in…
And deep breath out..
Long story short… the four performances at 54 Below happened earlier this week — and were very well received!
I will probably write at least one more blog post about the experience — which was full of many funny moments, poignant moments, loving moments, anxiety-inducing moments, joyful moments and much, much more!
I am deeply grateful to have been asked to participate — and very curious to see if I ever have my PIPPIN-related anxiety dream/nightmare again…
Thank you for reading another one of my blog posts.
Thank you to Walter Willison for the HUGE amount of work he did to make these performances a reality — and for inviting me to participate!
Thank you to all of the beloved original cast members of PIPPIN who welcomed me back into their hearts — forty nine years after I had outgrown my role as standby for Theo and left the cast.
Thank you to the people whom I did not already know — music director Michael Lavine plus performers Joy Franz and Aaron Lee Battle) who also participated in this musical adventure.
Thank you to Doug Hammer and Mike Callahan for recording “Magic To Do” with me as part of a show we did at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston called WILL LOVES STEVE — which featured songs written by Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Steve Sweeting, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Flaherty, Cat Stevens and Steve Schalchlin.
And thank you to Stephen Schwartz for writing all the songs for PIPPIN — which people around the world (including me) love to sing!
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
You are always welcome to visit my website — where you can find many songs and learn more about my musical life here on planet earth if you are curious.
You can also find me singing on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, YouTube and other digital music platforms.
And here’s a link to play “Magic To Do” on digital music platforms.
Any song you “like” or add to one of your playlists will greatly improve the algorithmic activity of my music there.
I hope you stay well.
And I welcome any comments you may be inspired to write.
I will close with a photo of the moon over Central Park which I took as I was walking up Broadway at Columbus Circle after our second afternoon of rehearsals…
And one more deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
What a wonderful trip down memory lane for you Will, thanks for sharing 😘
You are very welcome! It is something that I never in my wildest dreams/nightmares thought would ever actually happen. Thank YOU for reading yet another blog post!
How wonderful that could revive sweet memories, and build new ones with this Pippin show Will. And thank you for sharing your passion for singing, entertainment, and teaching. Kudos on the great reviews and memories.
You are most welcome, Brad. It was a fascinating and ultimately very satisfying experience.
How lovely, Will to come a full circle …a lovely post 🙂
Yes. It is a totally unexpected — and much appreciated (especially now that it is over — parts of it were a bit nerve-wracking for me) full circle experience/adventure…
Sometimes the unexpected are the best times although they maybe nerve racking 🙂
Such wonderful experiences–then and now! Thanks for sharing, Will.
You are very welcome. I am not sure how I am going to write a blog post of a manageable length about the actual four days (two rehearsing and two performing) I spent with these folks… so many sweet — and often fascinating — anecdotes and interactions are currently swirling around in my memory banks! Thank YOU for making time to read and listen.
I want to add my thanks for sharing this very interesting and human story. I read it from beginning to end, which I take no pleasure in admitting that I don’t always do with long posts. BRAVO!
What a lovely compliment! Thank you for taking the time to do that! The surviving original cast members are a fascinating and still-very-talented group off human beings…
Sweet memories. I enjoyed the post and the music!
Thank you for making time to read and listen while you explore the-roads-less-traveled, including Route 66!
Wow. What an interesting tale! Congrats to you and all your castmates on this reunion. Bravo, Will!
Thank you, Cynthia. It was a completely unexpected event in my life — and it is a great reminder that life can be full of surprises…
That was a wonderful experience, and quite a history you have, Will! Thank you for sharing it with your readers!
You are most welcome! I do have a somewhat unusual history as a child/teen performer. Usually I keep it under wraps, but this opportunity brought it all back out in the open! Thank you for reading yet another one lf my blog posts.
What a wonderful opportunity you’ve had, reconnecting with that experience and cast all these years later! Thanks for sharing it.
Paula Ogier http://www.paulaogierart.com
You are very welcome, Paula! It was a 50-year orbit coming full circle… and I am very grateful to have been included in this reunion concert undertaking!
Will!!! I am nearly choked up, and my heart is full. What a wonderful experience, and such an honor for you to be there. I hope those bad dreams finally go away. Is your grandmother still alive? She would be so pleased and proud. Hotchkiss is a good school- I hope you had a good experience there. Looking forward to more stories and photos of the PIPPIN 50th.
Thanks for reading my blog post with such an open and empathetic heart, Jennie! My grandmother died long ago (and my mother, who hates to this day being from Queens) immediately sold her mother’s little brick house (which had a lot on either side of it filled with trees, an organic garden, berry bushes, lawn — all of which were destroyed when the new owner put up a huge new house on both lots…) Deep breath in. Deep breath out. The PIPPIN concerts did end up being a lovely experience — after a lot of anxiety… Another deep breath in. And deep breath out.
My pleasure, Will. Thank you for the follow-up. So sad about your grandmother’s house and lovely lots. Now, you have conquered your anxiety and have a wonderful experience and memories to show for it. Yahoo!
I agree. Yahoo!
Will thanks for sharing this. I would love to hear your songs and music. Anita
Thank you, Anita! All the songs I’ve released over the past two years are available on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, etc. by searching for “Will McMillan featuring Doug Hammer” if you are ever bored or curious…
Wonderful post, Will! I was hoping you would write about the 50th anniversary bash. Thank you. I hope you will stay free of the scary dream now. I used to think of it as the “teacher’s dream,” as I dreamed something similar for years after being an elementary school teacher.
Probably most of us have some version of an anxiety dream based on our previous life experiences… Occasionally I will have a dream in which I show up to lead a Music Together class and am unprepared or the space is not conducive or too many people hove showed up, etc… I would like, as my musings gel, to write another blog post about the actual experience of two afternoon rehearsals, one tech rehearsal and then…four performances! I hope you have gotten outside today — maybe to take photos of sun-warmed blooming crocus and galanthus) in your neighborhood…
Snowdrops. Please do those posts about rehearsals and all.
Hi Will. Glad to hear you’ve been staying healthy this winter. So exciting that you had an opportunity to participate in this reunion…and to be part of the original production.
I am VERY grateful that I did not fall ill in NYC or when I returned home. I’ve been immunocompromised (coincidentally) since Covid entered our lives (a story I have not yet shared with many people or in any blog posts), but the once-in-a-lifetime PIPPIN reunion concerts seemed worth the risk! Now I have a LOT of thank you cards to write and send… Thank YOU for reading another one of my blog posts!
Can’t wait to hear more about this! And bravo, you! Your in-and-out breaths added up to a wonderful adventure and a delightful night, I’m sure, for the guests in the audience. Stay healthy–I just tested positive for COVID today–third time since the start of COVID many moons ago. Ugh. Mask up.
Argh!!! Third time!!! That does not seem at all fair!!! I hope it proves to be a mild case AND does not interrupt the flow of the new relationship you shared in your last blog post…
Will, Somehow this post slipped by me; forgive me for this late comment. I thoroughly enjoyed your Pippin reminiscence and am delighted that you had such a wonderful time participating in the reunion. Stay well; and I hope your nightmare becomes a sweet dream. Cheers!
Thanks for reading and listening and commenting! It’s kind of nice when the comments don’t all arrive at once (right after one has published a new post…) So far I have not had that particular anxiety dream again. ps: I am finally releasing (in April,,, I think) a simple song I wrote after attending one of the big national marches a few years ago which is called “Democracy Is Under Attack.” I also have a song called “Waltzing With Covid-19” that I wrote during the first months of our recent pandemic which is ready to be released later this spring. I am a bit shy/anxious/nervous about releasing them (because of their overt political content), but your blog gives me courage…
Will, that is so lovely to hear! Thank you for telling me. And I hope you’ll let us know when the new songs are out. I also hope you’ll write more about the theatrical experiences of your youth. PS: the opening song on this post was superb!
Thank you for your enthusiastic support! “Democracy Is Under Attack” is scheduled to be released to various digital music platforms on 4/14/23…
A fine performance and an interesting post! It is really nice to be remembered all the way back to 10 years old. Perhaps you will now have your nightmare exorcised from your brain… breath in breath out! :>) Well done.
Thank you, Dwight! It is indeed a sweet treat to be remembered after 50 years of being apart.
You are most welcome! yes it is!
Will have experiences. You are an awesome singer and entertainment.