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I Think He’s Got It!

Jerry Stevenson’s grandson Ben

The day our non-English speaking grandson came out with a line from My Fair Lady

About two weeks before I retired, I received a phone call from a good friend inviting me to a Directors, Writers, and Actors workshop in Tel Aviv, conducted in English.

Ben, my grandson, was about two years old at that time and just completing his first year of pre-school education. He is the reason for this story, but I'll get to him later.

The phone call was coming at just the right time, for I was heading into uncharted waters. Suddenly, I would have lots of free time! I had seen many of my friends go into minor depressions when this occurred. What shall I do? Where shall I go? I've lost my identity. Making matters worse, my wife may innocently ask "Why don't you come shopping with me, dear!" oh brother, anything but that.

I went to the workshop, where to my misfortune the stress was on acting. They asked me to read a few lines from a Neil Simon play. I was so pathetic, I think they wanted to give me back my registration money.

"Try learning bridge or perhaps a trip to Corfu. You may want to go shopping with your wife"! But I decided to plough my way through, and two months later, there I was in front of 400 people, performing a monologue that I had written. At its completion, I felt as if I had just run the Boston Marathon or conducted Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

The loud applause was sincere and suddenly I had found a nice niche for my "golden years". This was my introduction to English Community Theater in Israel.

A few years have passed since then. I have played Pop Carnes in Oklahoma! and Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun, but usually I am singing and performing in the chorus, as a lusty pirate, a frightening ghost, a bumbling constable, a hearty whaler, a cockney vegetable vendor, a saucy oxford chap, a horse peddler and more.

It was during these years that I decided to tell my grandson what I was up to. With each new musical I would tell him the story of the production I was currently in.

At a time when kids his age were having Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat or Richard Scarry's What do People do All Day? read to them by their grandpa, I was discussing with Ben the delightful extravaganzas written by Rogers and Hammerstein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnik, Stephen Sondheim, Gilbert and Sullivan, Lerner and Lowe and others. He seemed to enjoy it and so I have continued on with this project.

As our successful run of the brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore ended, I was told that our next musical would be the Broadway blockbuster Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. Ben was five years old when this production was supposed to take place. I thought: why not let him finally come to see his grandpa on stage in one of the greatest musicals of all time?

I got the oK from his parents and my wife. I had a brief amount of time to teach him the wonderful story of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, and how Lerner and Loewe turned the whole epic into an amazing musical masterpiece.

My wife and I usually see our grandson once a week. Every Sunday we help his parents out by babysitting him and his little sister. It was at this time, just before he would fall asleep, that I would go over the story and songs of My Fair Lady. This was not as easy as you might imagine. Ben does not speak English.

While I never thought he could sit through the entire three plus hours of a show of this nature in English, I was hoping that with the help of his grandma sitting next to him in the hall, and my working with him beforehand, he just might make it through the first act.

Dear reader, just think of sitting through a complete performance of Oklahoma! acted and sung in Greek, and try to think of yourself as being only 5 years old to boot. It was a supreme challenge for all of us, especially Ben.

He took to the story immediately. His questions were clever. He wanted to understand what was considered proper English and the difference between it and Cockney English, and American English for that matter.

He was very alarmed that Eliza Doolittle considered munching a box of chocolates as being symbolic of a person who was refined and well-to-do. "Grandpa. Chocolate candy is very unhealthy for you. It should be a box of carrots or a box of raisins." His comments made our task even more of a challenge. However, he was most inquisitive about the entire harsh English speaking teaching methods of Professor Higgins with his pupil Eliza.

The day finally arrived when Ben was to come to the show. My wife and I had prepped him as best we could. At the intermission, after the first act, he decided it was time to leave and return to Tel Aviv with his dad.

I went out to the lobby to ask him how he enjoyed the show. He said he did and he wished me the best of luck in the second act. When I got home after our performance, I asked my wife, "Well, what do you think he got from of all this?" She said she didn't know; only that he said that he liked everything.

The next day my daughter took Ben to a birthday party of his good friend. According to the way my daughter tells it, the party was exceptionally loud, the kids were wild.

They were running around and playing with abandonment. Music was blasting away to make the entire scene even more chaotic. Suddenly in the middle of all this, Ben stopped carousing with his buddies, came over to his mother and said he had something to tell her.

She bent down and he whispered in her ear IN PERFECT ENGLISH, "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain." Not waiting for any reaction from his mom, he returned to the mayhem of the party. I have no idea what triggered this action of brilliance, nor did my astonished daughter.

But when she told us this story an hour later, I turned to my wife and said to her the first thing that came to my mind: "The boy takes after his grandpa!"

Wouldn’t it be loverly ... Julie Andrews in a scene from the stage version of My Fair Lady, written by Lerner and Loewe (Photo: Wikipedia)

Stage is set

A few months ago, Ben was accepted by the Herzliya/Tel Aviv Theater Workshop for Youth.
Said Jerry: "Perhaps the seeds for all this were planted when I spoke to him about My Fair Lady and Oklahoma! at bedtime."
Meanwhile, Ben will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah in January. Mazeltov to all the family.

 

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Monday, 20 September 2021

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