42nd Street: Tapping The Blues Away

Michael Kurth Thursday, October 28, 2021 Comments Off on 42nd Street: Tapping The Blues Away
42nd Street: Tapping The Blues Away

I was going to write my Lagniappe column about replacing the income tax with a national sales tax and abolishing the IRS, but something more important has come up. My wife, Cathy, will be performing on stage at ACTS Theatre in the award-winning Broadway musical 42nd Street. It is their first production since pandemic restrictions were imposed.  

Why is 42nd Street more important than getting rid of the IRS? Well, for starters, 42nd Street opens Oct. 8 while getting rid of the IRS is not likely to happen in my lifetime or yours, so I can always write about it in a future issue. Then there is the reality that Cathy is my wife, and you know the old saying about keeping mama happy. And for the last year and a half, life in Southwest Louisiana hasn’t been very happy, and the Kurth household is no exception.

Our trials and tribulations began when they suddenly closed the schools and public gatherings due to the pandemic. This was particularly hard on dance studios because they had already ordered costumes and were preparing for their annual recitals. (Cathy was able to have her recital by live-streaming it from South Beauregard High School.) 

Then, just as schools were about to re-open, we got hit by Hurricane Laura.  For many dance studios, the pandemic and the storms were too much, and they never reopened; that included several dance studios in Southwest Louisiana.

Cathy’s studio lost its roof and the inside had to be gutted.  She was able to re-open in February, but it was not an easy task, and she was under constant stress.  Her mother had passed away in June, 2020, and her first cousin died unexpectedly in January of this year.  

Our house also had extensive damage from Laura and Delta and still is only partially repaired. This was particularly hard on me because I was scheduled to have my right hip replaced on August 25, two days before Laura made landfall. I rescheduled the surgery for the end of November, and I was just getting my mobility back when Cathy and I both tested positive for the Corona. (She lost her taste and smell, while I was asymptomatic.) It was just before Christmas, and we had to quarantine and suspend all the repairs to our house. Then just as we were about to call our workers back, we got hit by the ice storm.

I’m not looking for sympathy, especially from people in Southwest Louisiana, because many have similar stories.  But it does have a profound effect on one’s state of mind.  I used to read Dilbert and the sports section of the American Press. Now I read the weather forecast and the obituaries.

When Cathy got the notice that ACTS Theater was holding auditions for 42nd Street, she encouraged her students to try out for a role in the show. Then she started saying things like “I love to tap dance” and “I really miss the theater.” So, I took the hint and suggested she audition for the show herself; it might take her mind off all our trials and tribulations.  

Her initial response was “I’m too old; they want young people, not grandmas.” Then she heard that Kristen Harrel was playing the lead role.  Cathy had taught Kristen dance since Kristen was three and they have remained very close. The thought of being able to dance on stage with her nudged Cathy over the top. So she went to the audition and told them she only wanted a spot in the last row of the dance chorus.  

The director Walt Kiser and choreographer Lauren Fontenot told her there was no way that was going to happen. So Cathy wound up with a supporting role, including a feature dance number. She was thrilled! Two of her students and one of her teachers from the studio are also appearing in the show.  

As often happens, I failed to think it all the way through when I urged Cathy to audition for the show. When she got the role, she immediately bought a large piece of hardwood floor and put it in her office at home so she could practice tap dancing. Her office is right next to mine, so I get to listen to several hours of tap dancing each day.  Then she went on a crazy diet and lost 10 pounds so she wouldn’t look fat on stage (hah!). And she spends about four hours at rehearsals every night, leaving me alone with my dog Bandit for company. (Bandit and I have each gained 12 pounds by snacking to placate our loneliness.)

ACTS Theatre had been a big part of our life when our kids were young.  The first show Cathy did was Gypsy. I had to push her to audition for it. I knew she was talented, but she was used to dancing with others. When she was at McNeese, she helped found the Cowgirl Kickers and served as their first captain. But she did not like having the spotlight on her. 

Nevertheless, she was cast in the lead as Gypsy Rose Lee, which meant she not only danced and acted on stage, but had to sing several songs solo. She was a bundle of nerves, but the show was a big success and received rave reviews in the American Press. Cathy was hooked on musical theater.

For the next 14 years, she was in at least eight productions at ACTS, usually with a group of kids from her studio in tow as well as our own kids. She even got me up on stage in a couple of dramas, but my performances were less than memorable. If you have kids and want to wean them off social media and their cell phones, the theater is a great place for them to make friends, gain confidence in themselves and build their social skills.

But the performing arts in Southwest Louisiana have really suffered from the pandemic and the storms. The Lake Charles Symphony is struggling to find venues to perform; the Little Theater is now doing plays on the radio; and Mardi Gras Krewes and numerous local events are struggling to come back. These things are part of the culture that makes Southwest Louisiana unique, and should not be overlooked or forgotten as we struggle for “normalcy.”

 You can visit the ACTS website at actstheatre.com for performance dates and to buy tickets for the show. (Be sure you spell “theater” as “theatre.”)   Cathy will be out of town the first weekend and her role will be played by the very talented choreographer, Lauren Fontenot.

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