About Last Night: A Ride in the Velma-vator, or, In the Next Room

Inside Track   About Last Night: A Ride in the Velma-vator, or, In the Next Room
A few years ago, I took my parents to see In the Heights for their 35th wedding anniversary. I knew some cast members, so, as a treat, I took my folks backstage.

We entered the stage door of the Richard Rodgers and snaked our way through a tunnel of wires and low ceilings to make it to the stage. As my parents marveled at all the eccentricities of the set and props up-close, I eagerly encouraged them to “keep it moving,” like I was a cop hustling along onlookers at the scene of a crime. My father very kindly obliged. My mother, on the other hand, was not as well behaved.

You see, my mother is a former performer. She loves to retell the stories of the first musical she ever performed in, which bizarrely enough, was her elementary school’s production of Finian’s Rainbow — at the ripe-old age of ten. Or of the time she “brought the house down” as Kim MacAfee in her summer camp production of Bye Bye Birdie.

So you can only imagine the rush of emotions this former leprechaun/Conrad Birdie chaser was feeling when she stepped onto a real Broadway stage.  I watched as my mom paused, center stage, closed her eyes and began to raise her arms.  Before she had a chance to launch into song I snipped: “Ma! Come on!”

I hadn’t really remembered that moment until last night, when I was invited to test-drive Chicago’s “Velma-vator” — the mechanical lift that launches Velma Kelly into the spotlight at the top of “All That Jazz.”

Amra Faye-Wright, Broadway’s current Velma, was my guide.  We climbed a few steps to a platform in the middle of the stage. I couldn’t help but feel a rush of excitement peering out into the empty Ambassador theatre. Amra wrapped her arm around my shoulder; “Hold on,” she warned as we descended into the depths of the stage. “When we shoot up, it can go fast and I don’t want you falling onto the piano.” Me neither.

Three seconds later we made it to the cool, dark bottom; I felt a little like a stowaway. “Fun, right?” Amra whispered. “O.K.!” she sang to the lift operator outside, and three seconds later we shot back up to the top, both our arms stretched in our best Velma Kelly pose. (Well, Amra in her best Velma Kelly pose, me in my best wanna-be Velma Kelly pose.) It was at that moment, while I was hamming it up with my imaginary bowler hat, reveling in my dream of playing the merry murderess of the Cook County jail, that I remembered my mother, living her own fantasy onstage at the Richard Rodgers.

I guess what they say is true…the ham doesn’t fall far from the tree.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="The real Velma Kelly, Amra-Faye Wright, in Broadway's Chicago"]Amra-Faye Wright in Chicago[/caption]

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