Early in the school year, Barb and I set our sights on a solo number. We'd never been in the Variety Show before and figured, "Why not start at the top?" We had a plan and thought we had a great number—"Honey Bun". We had taken dance lessons at Mayblossom McDonald’s after all and the fact that my voice was like Alfalfa’s was no impediment since I would lip sync the song. I was a seasoned performer—I’d been dancing and singing on top of the cedar chest for a select audience since I was two years old.
Barb and I both loved movies and we had become obsessed with South Pacific when it was released in 1958. We saw the film, featuring Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, and Ray Walston in glorious Technicolor at our favorite Marbro Theater and were enchanted. We saved our pop bottle return money and bought a used copy of the movie soundtrack from Garrett’s Music City down the block on Madison Street. We learned all the words to the musical numbers and practiced every day after school, playing the album over and over again on the record player that Uncle Billy left us after he moved out of our apartment. Barb and I decided I would dress up in my Dad’s old Navy uniform, he was not a tall man, but I would still be swimming in it. I would play the Nellie Forbush part and Barb, who was tiny, would wear a hula skirt and play the Luther Billis role.
We were sure we would be the hit of the show. Who could fail to see the humor of a ten-year-old and her much shorter eight-year-old sister singing a Broadway showtune?
Barb and I must have played that album thousands of times, singing along, “A hundred and one pounds of fun…” over and over and over again, mugging and prancing before our imaginary audience. Finally, after the Christmas holidays, the auditions were announced by Sister Veronica Ann over the school public address system. Barb and I got to the auditions early so we could grab a seat in the front row. The folding chairs were set up on the assembly hall linoleum floor. Hundreds of kids from the entire neighborhood packed the grammar school basement. St. Mel’s students in their uniforms and Tilton School kids in after-school play clothes all came to try out because this was an egalitarian affair and every kid in the neighborhood was welcome. The smells of Double Bubble bubble gum, peanut butter, graham crackers, butch wax and overripe bananas filled the warm basement with a heady juvenile perfume.
Father Shaughnessy raised a hand and everyone was silent. “OK—let me hear from Mary McCarty,” and Mary belted out, “If You’re Irish Come into the Parlor” sure to be a hit with many in the neighborhood. “You’re in,” Father Shaughnessy pronounced the words of success.
Barb sat still but I squirmed and fidgeted and bit my nails while the parade of Irish dancers, roller skaters, baton twirlers, child tenors, musicians, and acrobats rolled by. The auditions seemed to go on forever. Finally, as Barb began to nod off, we heard, “Solick Sisters—you’re up.” We ran to the front of the hall and nodded to Sister Charlotte Marie who cued up our album to the right track. We nailed it like old vaudevillians. We tapped our best feet forward, in my case already a size 8. As I glided across the floor, I tried to gauge the audience response. They seemed to love it.
When the song ended, Father Shaughnessy declared, "Congratulations, Solicks—you’re in." We ran home to tell our Mom the great news. She told us that she knew we would make the cut. Everyone would make the cut, we sniffed, we were after something bigger. For months after the auditions, we would rehearse our acts in that school basement, practicing for the big day—“Another opening, another show” was the first number of the Variety Show, and everyone who wanted to perform could sing in the chorus. We practiced at home, in the backyard, in the schoolyard, in front of anyone who would watch us. Barb, who was the dancer and artist in the family, drilled me on my steps and my Mom coached me on my dramatic gestures. We would strut our stuff for any audience, adults, classmates, Aidan Lennon and his dog—anyone. And every day, we ran to the grammar school basement to rehearse our number for Father Shaughnessy. We were sure we were just getting better and better.
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