It was 1999 and battle weary men from both sides, North and South, from the Frank Wildhorn/Jack Murphy/Greg Boyd musical, “The Civil War” were slated to sing The National Anthem and a halftime show for a playoff game between the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks. We had worked out a stellar arrangement of the anthem under the very capable direction of Dave Clemmons, at the time one of the featured soldiers in the broadway show and doing double duty as a casting director. Clem (as he is affectionately called by those that know him) is now one of the most well respected casting directors in New York and teaches college level classes all across the country in all facets of theatre. He is also an expert musicologist in nearly every genre, not to mention a music trivia nut (oops! i mean “expert!) and one of the best judges of the voice I’ve ever known. (I can see his head swelling as he reads this!)
The Knicks had their game faces on and egos well polished and there was no getting near them before the game. We were put in an unused locker room at Madisan Square Garden to warm up and at the last minute were told to put on Hawks and Knicks jerseys to represent North and South (oh, this is goin’ to go over REAL WELL!) It was bad enough that Geno and I (Confederate and Union Captains, respectively) had to wear our swords for the halftime show. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to don the shitty idea jerseys for the singing of the National Anthem. Now, these guys, as well as the rest of our magnificent cast are still collectively known to this day as one of the best singing casts to ever grace the broadway stage. Period. Most of us had been singing together on and off for various readings and the out of town try outs (what they call the pre-broadway run) since ‘97. We were some sangin’ fools to put it mildly.
Sadly, and much to our chagrin, just the Northern and Southern soldier cast were picked to do the anthem and then the halftime show. As we were waiting to go onto the court to do the anthem, I was standing right next to Magic Johnson, my favorite basketball player of all time. So close, I could have stepped on his huge ass foot! So desperate I was to say something to him I naturally think of nothing and I led the guys out onto the court to sing. We.Were.Spectacular! The crowd went apeshit! Our arrangement had the perfect blend of flowing in and out of unison and harmony! We didn’t even rehearse that much as I recall, we had just sung together for some time already, it was just kind of natural. It was glorious and we walked off the court to tumultuous applause and screams!! Even the ushers were saying it was one of the best versions they’d ever heard.
And There was Magic Johnson, reaching out to shake my hand since i was elected to lead the guys on and off the court, effusive with praise, saying how amazing it was and vowing to come and see our show (don’t think he ever did). He shook every one of our guys hands just as generously as all the stories we’d heard about him.
Well, then comes time for the halftime show and we don “The Jerseys”, Hawks representing the South and Knicks representing the North. Right out of the “Really Bad Idea” playbook. Gene Miller The Southern Captain and me the Northern Captain, strap our swords on, all of us feeling like dorks and thinking we looked ridiculous, march out to sing “the halftime show”.
The presentation started with a song I opened the show with, “Brother My Brother”....and the only monitor system or any way we had to hear what we were doing was the Garden P.A. system. Talk about an impossible task! It was fine for the National Anthem because we sang that without accompaniment, but for the presentation we were singing to a track that was coming out of the P.A. system. I could barely find “one” (the beginning of the track!) Somehow, I got into the start of the tune and we had arranged it straight into another song from the show “By The Sword/Sons Of Dixie” only to start hearing boos from the crowd! That’s right, the same lame ass New Yorkers who loved our version of the
National Anthem were now full of overpriced beer and wanted to see tits and ass, not some dorkos in jerseys, marching around the court singin’ some broadway tune! Maybe they were pissed off because the I think the Knicks were gettin’ beat or some shit, but it was nontheless humiliating as hell! We went from being the coolest to the lamest in only two quarters! And the cherry on top was that we weren’t even bein’ paid for our humiliation. We were doing it to promote the show. Oh yeah, they gave us some tickets way up in the nosebleed section. WOO FUCKIN’ HOO! By the end of the 3rd quarter the Knicks were gettin’ their asses handed to them in a diaper and a lot of us just split, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
After being somewhat destroyed by the drunks in the cheap seats and being escorted off of the court, there was Magic Johnson again, shakin’ everyone of our guys’ hands and sayin’ things like “don’t worry about those fools, I used to get booed by them all the time”. It was about the only redeeming thing the experience held for us except for knockin’ ‘em dead before the game with the National Anthem.
The real thrill of it for me was meeting one of my sports idols and having him say how great we were. I think I remember saying something stupid about how I was from LA and used to take my boys to see the Lakers play a lot, and I’m your biggest fan (‘cause he probably ever heard that before) but Magic, if somehow you are reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart for redeeming one of the more embarrassing moments of my musical life. You are truly a sweet soul.
Oh yeah, AND THE ORIGINAL CAST OF “THE CIVIL WAR” ROCKS!!! It’s just a real shame we didn’t get an original cast album out of it.....
M. Lanning 5/02/12