Here am I, your special island
Come to me . . . come to me
Your own special hope, your own special dreams
Bloom on the hillside and shine in the streams
Another opening, another show: Each summer’s midpoint brought a bit of Broadway to our wood-frame recreation hall, a chance for theatricality and showing off.
We had no curtain, no stage lights and no microphones. But oh, what heights we hit.
With Gerry at the piano, scripts to memorize and sheet-music lyrics in hand, young performers and chorus members spent two or three weeks polishing a Parents’ Weekend show for the last weekend of July. That’s when a stream of Ramblers, DeSotos, Imperials, Fairlanes, Impalas and station wagons would bring moms, dads and little kids up Sheldon Road.
Gerry and Ellen Bucky made sure they saw that camp wasn’t all softball, swimming and ceramics.
The titles of our ambitious musicals are like a collection of Playbills from the 50’s and 60’s: Damn Yankees, South Pacific, Finian’s Rainbow, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, Guys and Dolls, Pajama Game.
Four decades later, the years roll back effortlessly and the music rises in my mind with just the slightest provocation. Mangoes and bananas you can pick right off the tree, you say? Volleyball and ping-pong and a lot of dandy games? Yes, it’s a rare beach vacation that doesn’t get me humming about sunlight on the sand and moonlight on the sea . . . and it really didn’t take much to amuse and enthrall back then either, in that early TV and transistor radio era—long before Walkman, Pac-Man and Robocop. Simple costumes and rudimentary sets were cobbled together from construction paper, tempera paints, fabric bolts, converted furniture, accessorized clothes, other odds and ends. Imagination and enthusiasm made up for the basic—OK, virtually nonexistent—production values.
At our Sunday matinee during Parents’ Weekend, pale adults in Bermudas and Capri’s filled the low benches set up in rows on the concrete slab of our barn-like meeting hall with glassless windows and open door frames. Younger siblings waved, moms nudged neighbors and flashbulbs popped as proud papas preserved a center-stage solo.
Beyond their entertainment value, such as it was, the plays had lasting educational and personality development dividends. They built confidence, taught stage presence, relied on teamwork and laid a foundation for public speaking by helping novice performers make eye contact, project voices and recognize the value of dramatic timing. Through weeks of rehearsals and previews, even those without speaking parts picked up sophisticated new words, learned about imagery and rhyme, got snippets of geographic and historic knowledge, even brushed up on the musical scale (“Doe, a deer”).
Plus, they were just plain cool fun—with lyrics and lines about making a bargain with the devil, dancing all night, getting a man, courting lady luck at all-night crap games and dreaming of the soft and wavy frame that’s a silhouette of a dame.
I can’t imagine a former camper or counselor among us who doesn’t still know at least some lyrics to “On the Street Where You Live,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” or “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”
One also wonders how many pint-sized hams went on to larger stages as amateur or professional performers. I do know, thanks to Elaine (Hanauer) Ravich of Baltimore, that counselor Larry Stempel now teaches music at Fordham University in the Bronx and that Bernie Bucky, one of the owners’ sons, started the theater department at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.
For everyone lucky enough to have been there, our version of summer stock opened young eyes and ears to the beauty, grace and wit of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Irving Berlin, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe.
Come September, parents didn’t have to encourage this camper to pick up original cast LPs at Brentano or Korvette’s back in the city. On vinyl or CD, those albums still sound mighty fine at the dawn of the 21st Century and evoke the thrill of putting on shows in a country barn—our own special island, our drop of golden sun.
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you.