Saturday, June 05, 2004
The Scrawniest Li'l Abner you'll ever see …
But if finding Daisy Mae was easy, obtaining an Abner proved impossible for a time. Actor after actor auditioned for the role and the casting directors continually broadened their search area, seeking someone who was tall and muscular and who could sing. “We started to panic,” Panama later recalled. “No matter how good the rest of the show was, no matter how good the rest of the cast was, we knew that without a strong Abner, we were dead.”
I was a drama geek at Coconut Creek High School. And Li'l Abner was the musical of the year during my senior year. And I do agree, finding someone to play Li'l Abner isn't easy. The drama teacher, Ms. Linsley, thought she found someone in the guide of W. He was in drama, a good six feet with a physique that of Charles Atlas.
And he could sing.
So there really wasn't any question as to who would get the role.
But keeping him in the role? That was an entirely different question. It became apparent a few weeks after casting that W wasn't really all that interested in being part of the production, despite him being the lead and gaggles of girls in tied-up shirts and short-shorts. The question then became whether Ms. Linsley would fire him (as much as a teacher could “fire” a student from a school production) or W would quit. And sixteen years later, I can't remember if the sequence went like:
W, you're fired.
You can't fire me! I quit!
You can't quit the show because you aren't part of the show! I fired you!
I'm already gone! You can't fire someone who already quit!
Or if it went like:
You can't quit!
Yes I can.
Okay, you're fired.
But I quit.
I don't accept your resignation, and in any case, you're fired.
Time does have a way of erasing little details like that.
So now we're out a Li'l Abner, and seeing how the play is called “Li'l Abner,” not having someone play Li'l Abner is definitely a problem. Jon Smithers had the physique, and the singing voice, but at something like 4′10″ he would have made a rather short Li'l Abner. After casting about a few days, Ms. Linsley came to a decision and decided to cast the scrawniest 9th grader she could find. And cast him she did (although I've long forgotten his name and couldn't find him in the year book, but I'm sure Gregory remembers). The idea was to stuff his costume with balloons in an attempt to “bulk” him up some.
Hey, Li'l Abner is a comedy musical anyway, so why not have a scrawny kid bulked out with balloons to add even more humor? Well, that was the theory anyway, and as disasters go, it wasn't as bad as loosing a lead the day before opening night (as happened the previous year with Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd) or actors forgetting entire songs during opening night (as happened the following year with How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).
Yea, things could have been worse.