The Making of Little Mary Sunshine

It would be neat to claim I played Billy Jester, but in fact I was just a forest ranger, Hank, in the chorus, Jester’s sidekick. I brought to my part a decent baritone voice and peppy want-to. This was the spring musical at Robert College, merry Little Mary Sunshine. A cynic might have called the wholesome confection campy, if camp had been invented in 1963. How did it go? Finishing school maidens got sort of lost in the woods, among injuns, and the forest rangers sort of calmed them and this led to low-key lovey-dovey. Sweet was the ruling principle. In a note to his libretto, Rick Besoyan warned would-be directors, “It is absolutely essential to the success of the musical that it should be played with the most warmhearted earnestness.” A YOUNG LADY delivers the prologue: “Hello: I’d like to take you back to a time when the world was much more simple than ours is today. For instance, good meant good, bad meant bad, virtue was all . . .”

I had only one line: during a bit of business with a camera on a tripod, I was to instruct the hoop-skirted maidens to say cheese. This evening was a closed dress rehearsal; my stutter was wrestling the little speech to a draw—s-s-s-s-s-s-ay chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh-Camembert— when I became aware of a figure coming forward out of the darkness at the back of the auditorium. The maidens were trilling a little tune, tra-la, and then their song trailed off, and I squinted into the gloom.