During my last year at Boston College law school, I’d become bored studying the Uniform Commercial Code and creditor priorities in Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Like many of my classmates about to graduate into a terrible economic recession, I didn’t have a single job offer nor many prospects. Soon I’d be facing a future of student loan debt and, if I was lucky, a law firm job that would crush my soul into oblivion, as I’d spend 60-hours workweeks reviewing boring legal documents until my eyes bled.
I’d seen old musicals on television where plucky, attractive people simply sang and danced their troubles away. And so, in a moment of either pluck or madness, I signed up for the school’s annual Law Revue variety show.
Five years before, on a dare from my actor/musician college roommate, I’d auditioned for a small role in a George Bernard Shaw play (Major Barbara) put on by Amherst college. I memorized my lines and showed up for the audition. When my moment arrived, my brain froze up and I blanked on cue. Red-faced, I turned and walked off the stage, promising never to return. I swear I heard a sigh of relief from the play’s director. I wrote it off -- “theater people” were psychologically needy, and I considered myself fairly well-adjusted (as maladjusted people always do).
What was I seeking in joining the Law Revue? Pathetic redemption, perhaps? A sense of artistic community? Four nights a week, I rehearsed with thirty other law students, singing and dancing in the chorus, clumsily learning my dance steps. I even got a small role in a comedy skit based on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I played the nerdy Brad role, and had a single comic line about how hard it was to find parking near our Boston-area law school. I was in showbiz now, though barely one step removed from volunteer usher.
After rehearsals, most of the cast went to Mary Ann's, a famous local watering hole in Cleveland Circle, to gossip about other cast members and bemoan our lack of job prospects. The show gave me the most consistent, fun-filled social life I’d ever had in my three years as a law student. Not that this is saying much -- a lot of law students get orgasmic when reading tort cases about slip and falls involving banana peels and sore backs. Sad, but those folks are often the best lawyers.
After several drinks with the Law Revue cast, I enjoyed hearing (and spreading) the backstage gossip, partaking in the small resentments of the stage performer’s life (all actors, even terrible ones -- especially the terrible ones -- count the number of lines they're given in comparison with others in the cast). I used to say, after my third beer, that our out-of-his-depth student director simply couldn’t recognize talent, which was why I had only one line in but a single skit. I shudder to think what the director was saying about me. It was always fun to think myself a thespian, even a fifth-rate one.
Opening night was a cold Friday with an audience of mostly cast-members’ family and friends. I danced and sang among two dozen in the opening chorus, finding my usual spot in the back as we shimmied to “Love Shack” by the B-52s. During my comedy skit, I walked calmly from stage right and delivered my only line: “sure is tough to find parking around here!” Relieved after I’d enunciated it correctly, a small miracle happened. The audience actually laughed. Stunned, I struggled not to turn to them and take a bow, like some sort of latter-day Sir Walter Raleigh, which would have upstaged my acting partner’s next line. Instead, I floated off the stage a minute later, applause propelling me as if upon a cumulus cloud.
After the bright lights went down and the audience dispersed, the cast headed to an after-party at a nearby Brighton apartment. I felt elated and confused. Should I give up my yet-to-be-launched legal career and chase the bright lights of Broadway? To calm my social awkwardness, especially as several cast members offered me thumbs up with comments like, "not as bad as it could have been, Chuck" or "well, you survived in one piece," I drank way too much.
I don’t remember exactly how many margaritas I’d consumed, but I soon found myself floating around a living room dance floor to an M.C. Hammer song, “You Can’t Touch This.” One moment, I was dancing with a cast member whose face was a smiling blur, and the next I found myself dropping in slow motion to the floor. Hammer time, indeed: I was out like a stage light.
When I regained consciousness the next morning, I was flat on my back on a lime-green couch. Lifting myself up, I took in a moonscape of plastic dixie cups, pizza boxes, and half-empty bottles of beer. The party was over. Embarrassed, and unsure of my status as a guest in this strange apartment, I left quickly into the frigid morning air. Shivering on the sidewalk, I tried in vain to recall the theatrical triumph of the previous evening, not to mention my after-party face flop. I flagged a taxicab and went home. On Monday morning, back in Bankruptcy class, nobody said a word about Friday night’s triumph.
This was the beginning and end of my brief showbiz career. On Monday morning, I listened with 50 other law students as a Professor droned on about the rights of secured creditors in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceedings. The future seemed bleaker than ever. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that my foray into musical theater had been a worthwhile diversion, or at least a glimpse into one possible future. My Tony Award would have to wait.