Friday, May 10, 2013


        As I explained in a previous post, two of our fellow Nassoons, because of other obligations, did not feel they could participate in the Triangle Show. They would be sorely missed, but their absence did not dampen the enthusiasm of the remaining ten of us It was not that we didn't have other demands on our time as well. Everyone of us was heavily involved in other extracurricular activities. A few of us, of whom I was one, were also facing the daunting requirement of a senior thesis.
        But being in the Triangle Show was an experience we all felt we could not afford to miss. There would be many rewards, including our being inducted into the historic Triangle Club. So it was full speed ahead for "Clear the Track!" Learning the songs, rehearsing with the cast, the dress rehearsal ---it all went so fast. Opening night was upon us sooner than we ever could have imagined, when we first agreed to take part, and before we knew it winter break was over and we were on campus again, looking back on the tour and sharing stories with our friends.

The Princeton Nassoons in  the 1946-47 Triangle Show "Clear the Track!" - L to R: Bill Rogers '48,
Jack Pemberton '49, Jim Buck '46, Ed Knetzger '46,  Jeff Penfield '49, Og Tanner '48, Al Burr '49,
Don Elberfeld '47, Dick Armstrong' 46, Don Finnie '47

        “CLEAR THE TRACK A SMASHING SUCCESS IN SEVEN CITY TOUR” read the headline in the January 6, 1947, issue of  The Daily Princetonian.
        Indeed it was, and there were reasons for that. It was the Triangle Club’s first show since the 1942-43 production “Time and Again,” after which the University had shut down the Club’s activities for the duration of World War II. Triangle fans, especially Princeton alums, were eagerly awaiting the return of the popular student musical. In every city they greeted each actor’s arrival on stage with vigorous applause.
        But their warm reception was not gratuitous. The show had lots of humor, great music, and an incredibly talented cast. It also had a nostalgia-evoking story line, centering on the romance of a Princeton man and the sister of a Yale man. The Triangle show, like our student body, was all male in those days, and the producers of  “Clear the Track” made sure to include the perennial audience pleaser, the high-kicking and much too brawny  “girls” chorus line. Well, fairly high kicking!
        It all added up to make “Clear the Track” a sure-fire hit. Those with triskaidekaphobia might have been a bit anxious that we were scheduled to open on the night of Friday the thirteenth of  December. Their fears were ill-founded, however, as McCarter Theater was packed out and the audience’s reception was everything we could have hoped for and more.
        The response prompted this headline in the Princetonian the following Monday: CAPACITY CROWD SEES TRIANGLE SHOW BURST INTO SMASH HIT. In his very favorable review R. Case Morgan ‘49 predicted that “Clear the Track” would be hit on the road as well. He was right.
        Over the years some of the Triangle show tunes have become widely popular, a notable example being “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon),” written by Brooks Bowman ’36 for the 1934 production, “Stags at Bay.” I really thought two or three of the songs from “Clear the Track” could become hits with the wider public, including “I Want to Go on a Picnic,” a beautiful song written by my classmate John MacFayden. John also wrote “As I Remember You,” which was introduced  by the Nassoons in the 1942-43 Triangle show, “Time and Again.”
        Another great song from “Clear the Track!” was “You Gotta Have Me!” Don Finnie did a lively  arrangement of it, which we included in the album we recorded in March of 1947. One of my personal “Clear the Track!”favorites, because of its unique chord changes, was “You’re More Like an Angel,” a beautiful love song with music by John MacFayden and words by Mark Lawrence ’42.
        “You Gotta Have Me!” was written for the character Gil de Lilly, played masterfully by Don Durgin ‘46.  The Nassoons teamed with Don on that song, which we had introduced when we made our debut in Alexander Hall on November 22.
        The Nassoons sang the title song, “Clear the Track,” in the spectacular opening scene, and occasionally we were doing some choreography in the background, while others were performing. In one scene we were wearing white sweaters with a big orange “P” on the back, as we faced away from the audience. When the setting shifted to the New Haven campus, we turned and faced the surprised audience sporting a big blue "Y" on the front of our sweaters and proceeded to sing the widely familiar Whiffenpoofs song!
        Our expressions showed that we were really putting our hearts into it, as we sang a straight-forward, traditional arrangement —until the very end of the chorus, when we suddenly soared into some really wild chords to end the song “Nassoon style”! The audience went wild —all except the Yale alums, who were shocked by the liberty we had taken with their beloved song. I’m sure the reverberations reached all the way to “the tables down at Mory’s”!
        On a personal note, I must say that our seven-city tour was not quite as much fun for me as I had originally thought it would be, simply because I had fallen in love with a Wellesley lass named Margaret Childs. I loved the performances, but the rest of the time I was thinking about Margie. Oh, the parties were fun, but for me not because of the abundance of good-looking girls. The fun was in the informal singing in which we were constantly engaged. Rub any four Nassoons together and you’ll get a song every time!
        One of my indelible recollections is of a time when the cast was being entertained before the performance in one of the cities we visited, I think it was Cleveland, Ohio. But I do remember that there was a Steinway grand piano in the room, and the show’s Music Director, Dave Betts ‘45, who was one of the best improvisational piano players I’ve ever known, was displaying his amazing talents at the keyboard, which he often did. A number of admiring listeners had gathered around, as Dave drifted into “East of the Sun.” Two or three of us Nassoons started singing along, and very quickly, one by one the rest of the Nassoons joined us.
        That had to be one of the best renditions of Jim Lotspeich’s wonderful arrangement of that song ever sung, and it was Dave Betz’s fabulous accompaniment that made it so. He made the piano sound like a one-man orchestra! The ten of us Nassoons never sounded better. I get goose pimples just thinking about it. We went through the song twice, and at the end everybody cheered.
        I have another not so pleasant memory of getting sick and having to miss the performance in Philadelphia. So there were only nine Nassoons on stage for the show that night, and I later learned that some of my friends in the audience who were trying to identify me were thoroughly confused. I went home to spend Christmas with my parents in Baltimore and was able to rejoin the cast for the performance in my home town, following our two-day break.
        After a great cast party to celebrate our triumphal tour, we all had a lot of catching up to do back on campus. We did a special Alumni Day performance of "Clear the Track!" at McCarter Theater on February 22. We were also scheduled to do another presentation during reunions, but that seemed a long way off, and we Nassoons had a busy performance schedule of our own lined up, and an album to produce and market as well. Steve Kurtz and Jack Taylor were back with us again, and we elected two new members that spring, basso profundo Dave Romig, and IB/2T Herb Spencer, both of whom had been practicing regularly with us. It was Herb who about ten years later rendered an incredible service to the Nassoons by putting together the treasured "Black Book," a collection of 210 favorite Nassoon arrangements spanning roughly the first two decades of the Nassoons' existence.
        The spring semester of 1947 was a hectic one for me, as I was deluged with my duties as Business Manager, while working on my senior thesis ("The Unionization of Baseball"), playing on the varsity baseball team, and trying to keep up with my academic program, Cottage Club activities, and personal correspondence.
        Nassoon rehearsals and functions claimed their share of my time, but they never added to the pressure. Rather they were always a relief from it.

No comments:

Post a Comment