My Personal Peter Pan

Dorothy D. Bass

Copyright 1998 by Dorothy D. Ball


Photo property of the author.
Photo property of the author.

At five years old, Nanette, my oldest daughter, was taking ballad and tap dancing from Sammy Dyer in Chicago. She loved every moment of it! Going to dance lessons was more fun for Nanette than going to the circus. We never had to coerce her to practice. She would bounce and jump around the house from the moment she got home until bedtime. Ballad was her favorite….because it made her feel like a Princess she would say.

In June, 1955 Sammy was presenting Peter Pan at the local high school along with another musical for the older students. Nanette was chosen to play the part of Peter Pan. When I picked her up that day, she bounced up to me and informed me of her important role. Her face lit up like a bright star while she was telling me about it. Enthusiasm was exuding from every part of her body and I was just as excited! I had never seen her so happy!

Sammy informed me that she had done extremely well and had earned the lead role. He didn’t have to tell me that, Nan lived with us, I mused. Of course, after the announcement she was a ‘bit hard" to live with. We were not sure we would be able to restrain her until June.

For the next four months, parents, children and families were hustling and bustling , car pooling, picking up and delivering children for the extra rehearsals, taking them for measurements for their costumes, all in the name of Peter Pan! It was a terrific strain on all the parents. They didn’t mind. We were all just as excited as the children. And, of course, "Miss Peter Pan" was hard to deal with. I had to threaten her several times a day, every day!

The day finally came, June 16, 1955! We had conditioned, talked, pampered and rehearsed Nan so much we felt we could all be her understudy. I was assigned as backstage monitor until the performance and then I could sit with my family. My duty was to make sure all the kids were present with their costumes. All chaperones had to be checked in.

My parents and every relative in Chicago were in the audience, along with my two year old daughter, Terri. Nan was so excited! She was bouncing, singing and jumping all over the place. She told me she had to be good for her baby sister, that’s why she was still practicing. I smiled but remained silent. She was so excited; but yet, seemed so grown up. I felt tears welling in my eyes and immediately started doing something. She did not need to see my teary eyes, I thought. Calming her down was like wrestling with a professional wrestler. She was wired! Between trying to keep up with her, make sure all the parents knew what they were suppose to do and check on Terri, I was a bit wired also.

Finally, the time arrived! Curtains were about to go up! Parents started gathering and positioning the children on stage. I ran out to sit with my family, arriving just as the curtains were going up. The babies looked like little angels and so disciplined, all smiling! You could hear the "Ohs and Wows" in the audience. Suddenly, the band started playing and they started dancing right on cue! The audience was very quiet. You could hear a pin drop! I think every parent's heart was in their mouth, praying that their child would not make a mistake! While the children were dancing, camera flashes were going off everywhere. It did not interfere with what the children were doing. All of the children were just magnificent! They had finished the first act and the curtain closed. The audience went wild with applause and screams.

Last Act, the audience was quiet again! The band started playing and the curtain slowly started going up! Applause! Applause! Applause! The children, in position, very still and looking very grown up again. What an impressive sight! I didn’t see Nanette, I became a little uptight. I was hoping she had not become a victim of stage fright. But, I sat there saying a prayer to myself.  I did not mention it to my parents. So, we just sat and watched the performance. All of a sudden, attached to a wire above, in comes Peter Pan! Everyone started applauding and laughing and my daughter was looking around for her family.

After she didn’t see us, she screamed: "MOMMY WHERE ARE YOU?"

The crowd roared.

After they calmed down, I stood up and screamed: "HERE WE ARE, NAN." And, then I sat down.

When she spotted me, she screamed again, "OK, MOMMY, NOW WATCH, K?"

Well, that one scene stole the show. The audience applauded and laughed simultaneously. My parents had tears in their eyes. Of course, my heart was in my mouth until she reached the other side. She did it!

The parents had no idea that this was being done. Sammy never allowed the parents to watch the children rehearse. Of course, he never told us just how Peter Pan would be presented. The entire performance was a surprise to everyone. I later asked him how he convinced Nan not to tell and he said he threatened her. She never mentioned it to us.

It was a funny, beautiful and scary affair for us. But, it made us all feel very good. Of course, Nanette was the star and from that point on, we started calling her "Our Personal Peter Pan".

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