In high school, I wrote a musical.
Through the magic of Mr. Markowitz’s 11th-grade English class, this musical was cast, rehearsed and ultimately performed at the Roy C. Ketcham Senior High School auditorium in front of teachers, parents and students.
For this, I received a grade of 100.
The musical, which featured elements from various texts we’d read that school year, particularly Macbeth, was in part a tongue-in-cheek tribute to my friend, classmate and well-known Trekkie, Seth Kammerman. The musical was set on the starship Enterprise and was called MacSeth.
The real inspiration for this musical – the reason I spent hours polishing the dialogue, discussing and even debating the scansion of song lyrics with Mr. Markowitz – was arguably my favorite movie from my early childhood, featuring what my young self might have called the greatest performance in cinematic history, this side of David Bowie in Labyrinth.
The movie: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
The actor: Gene Wilder.
In my play, fictional characters win golden tickets to tour the Enterprise. Seth Kammerman plays Mr. Spock and serves as their guide. At the end, the last surviving character wins a cameo on the TV show, perhaps, or even inherits the Enterprise itself – who remembers?
Along the way, life lessons are learned as fatal flaws are revealed, with requiems delivered not by a Greek chorus of Oompa Loompas, but by Star Trek redshirts. Their musical warning, a Cliff’s Notes ditty about each character’s tragic corner of the high school literary canon, featured this refrain:
You will live in obscurity, too / like the bit-part cast . . . and . . . crew.
There were other songs. The Candyman was, of course, the Kammerman, who sold collectible trading cards, not candy and, though the lyrics are delightfully dated, one of my favorite lines remains rooted firmly in my mind:
Who can give you baseball / basketball and POGs? / Every single Yankee from Mattingly to Boggs? / The Kammerman can / The Kammerman can!
The role of The Kammerman was played by one Marcus Siconolfi, who later went on to become an opera singer and now lives in Madrid. Seth Kammerman, busy playing Mr. Spock, was himself played by Jesse Steccato, whom you might discover via a Google search has become a real-life film actor. Seth Kammerman’s dad? He was played by . . . Seth Kammerman’s actual dad.
But I digress. The finest moment in the show – outside of a brief scene in which we make fun of Mr. Markowitz’s teaching style, which got the most laughs that evening – was my take on Gene Wilder’s pitch-perfect delivery of “Pure Imagination.”
Seth Kammerman, er, Mr. Spock, mostly spoke the lyrics, but they were by far my favorite part of the musical and, to this day, remain one of my personal literary highlights, despite a career for which I am paid to write and edit.
If you want to view The Enterprise / simply look around and view it / Anything you want to, do it / Want to explore the Galaxy? / Boldly go unto it.
I remember laughing out loud when I came up with that particular kicker.
There was more to the song, too, and I’m sure I have a tattered printout of the script somewhere, but the moments I remember are the special ones. Like this lyrical snippet:
Come aboard / with Geordi / if you truly wish to see.
Or something like that, you get the idea.
Anyway, all of this is to say I think about this musical from time to time when I am reliving my glory days. Its legend lives on, in my own mind, two full decades later. Of course I thought of it again, when we learned last month that this terrible year called 2016 had delivered yet another death of a genius: Gene Wilder.
Being that this is the Love Issue of Unwinnable Monthly, it’s appropriate for me to say that, though I never met Gene Wilder, I loved him and I loved his movies.
But I loved him most of all in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which has become not just a film for me, but a memory and an experience and an inspiration that can never die.