Theater Dreams by
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Prompted By Daydreaming

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Me as Helen Morgan, 1964

Theater Dreams

When I was very young my parents took me to see the original Broadway production of The King and I and I was spellbound.  I listened to the cast album for hours and I dreamed about growing up to be a famous actress.

One of my adored great aunts was a star in the Yiddish theater.   She was glamorous and stately, and I yearned to be just like her!   (See Aunt Miriam, Diva)

As a kid I acted in school plays and temple youth productions,  and the summer after I graduated from college I landed a dream job as a dramatics counselor at a children’s camp.  The gifted music counselor and I – with only two weeks to prepare for each show – mounted The Mikado with the little kids,  Oklahoma with the middle campers,  and Guys and Dolls with the teenagers,  all very successfully I might add.   (See Piano Man – Remembering Herb)

And I even had to deal with every director’s nightmare –  at the dress rehearsal for Guys and Dolls the teen playing Adelaide tripped on the rec hall stage,  badly cut her mouth and chipped both front teeth.  After staunching the blood,  a rushed trip into town to see the dentist,  and a phone call to her parents,  I told the kid that “the show must go on!”,  and trooper that she was,  it did!

And back at college I had joined the NYU Heights student theater group.  We were known as the Hall of Fame players,  named for the colonnade of statues of great Americans on that sweet campus in the Bronx.

I remember some roles I played that were especially fun.  One was a supporting part in Elmer Rice’s 1920s expressionistic drama The Adding Machine,  about the disgruntled accountant Mr Zero who learns he will be replaced by a machine and seeks revenge on his boss.

Another was the role of the young widow Elena who is visited by the handsome landowner Smirnov in Anton Chekov’s brilliant comedy The Bear.  Smirnov had been her late husband’s creditor,  now come to collect the money he claims he is owed.  They argue,  and although Elena is a woman,  Smirnov challenges her to a duel.  Enraged,  Elena accepts the challenge and sends for her late husband’s pistols which she says,  “ he purchased in Moscow for 90 roubles the pair.”

But on the night of the performance the prop guy goofed,  and I was presented with only one pistol.  I had no choice but to go off script.  “My husband made the purchase in Moscow,”,  I said ,  “for 45 roubles the one.”

Actually the pistols (or pistol) were never fired as Elena and Smirnov realize their mutual attraction,  and as the curtain falls they embrace!

And another fun role was my stint as the jazz singer Helen Morgan belting out the bluesy ballad Stormy Weather in a college revue.

But did I chase my early theatrical dreams?  Alas no,  girl-child of the 50s that I was,  I followed a more traditional path and became a high school librarian.  (See The Diary of a Young Girl, and Library Lesson)

I loved my decades-long library career,  but do I ever have regrets?   Well,  a girl can still dream,  can’t she?

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Theatre, Acting
Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. Ohmigosh, if I’m right, the featured image must be you as Helen Morgan? If not, who and what is it? Either way, great story, and great photo, Dee! And to be honest, it’s easier for me to imagine you as a performer than as a librarian. Nothing against librarians, of course…just that you clearly have a theatrical flair. In the immortal words of Aerosmith, “Dream On”!

  2. Marian says:

    Dana, this is so wonderful and revealing, and I am so glad you had the actual theater experiences you did. Similar to you, I did theater in high school and had every intent of pursuing it (although I couldn’t sing, and that was a problem). Life intervened, and like you, I didn’t regret a writing career. I’m still dreaming of doing community theater, although now who knows when that might be?

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Dana, I had the same dream in high school, but alas I lacked your talent. Instead, I was the director or created the scenery. I love the photo of you as a performer. You really had a stage presence and flair for putting yourself out there. Brava!

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story, Dana, about your theatre dreams. I love the picture of you as Helen Morgan, although I have to admit I had never heard of Helen Morgan until your story, and I had to go read all about her. I’m sure you were great, even if the piano was too tall for you to sit on! Thanks for sharing these dreams with us!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wow, LOVE that photo, Dana! And I loved learning so much about your theater dreams, so similar to mine (except you live in NYC and get to SEE Broadway shows all the time!) So let me add for a moment, I’ve been in The Mikado three times, played Sarah Brown at Brandeis in 1972, sang one of Laurie’s songs from Oklahoma in voice lessons in high school, have actually been in many other Gilbert & Sullivan operettas (chorus in most, Gianetta in Gondoliers at Brandeis). But I, too, gave up that dream. Can’t remember my title, but the prompt was The Road Not Taken (I wrote about it for Retro some years ago). But great that you followed your dream as long as you did. Thanks for sharing this with us, lovely lady.

  6. Thanks for sharing this nostalgic dreaming- retrospect indeed. Its interests me to think of how many ways there are to fulfill dreams, and if we did amateur versions, can that “count?” Even getting a taste of the traditions of theatre arts seemed to have deepened the rest of where your life goes, so the dream’s memories can feel nourishing too!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    I didn’t realize you were such a theatre talent! Even if you didn’t make a career of it, I’m sure the others you worked with benefited from your efforts, and you enjoyed it too. And no doubt continue to enjoy theatre. No reason to stop now.

  8. Dana:
    I loved following your interrupted theatre career. Mine was much less rewarding and shorter: I was never asked again to perform after my terrible performance in HMS Pinafore in the 6th grade. I was placed high on the mast away from the chorus and the actors. Around the same time, I had the lead role in Hansel and Gretel. Not inspiring or inspired.

    In Junior High, I appeared in a French language play which I think the audience that was in forced attendance wished would end soon so they could have recess. Before College, my family ran a Jewish theater in Los Angeles. Again I was up near the ceiling– handling the lights.
    In College, I performed a role without my glasses thus missing my lines and stage position.
    I did obtain some ability in mime. It helped I did not have a speaking role. And my awkward steps seemed to fit into my presentation. In Berkeley, I organized my children to perform on a street corner where they received a few donations.
    Consequently, I gave up my desire for a career in theater. I spent much of my life at the University in the role of Professor.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    Great photo!
    Theater/performing is a world immensely far removed from my early dreams. Funny now that among my numerous “what ifs” is what if I’d become enamored of music or acting early in life? So many chutes and ladders whose destinations we can never know.

  10. Jim Willis says:

    I loved hearing your theater dreams, Dana, and it sounds like you had a lot of fun pursuing them in your musicals and plays. My own acting experiences — save for one in 12 Angry Men — never made it past high school. But the dreams themselves made life more fun at the time, no?

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