By Barb Arland-Fye
For years, theater enthusiast Al King has wanted to see a production of “Showboat” on the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre. It happened this summer, and I had the privilege of attending a performance with Al and his wife, Elise, who is a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.
Our friendship dates back to the early 1980s when I was a young reporter in Clinton and the Kings were promoting community theater, especially in the Clinton area. I had aspired to get involved in community theater as a hobby after college, but a reporting career didn’t make that dream practical. So I did the next best thing: attend theater and do occasional reviews about the shows I saw.
After leaving Clinton, I lost touch with Al and Elise. But Elise later kept track of me through this column in The Catholic Messenger. She started sending birthday cards to my son Colin, who shares the same birth date — March 25 — with her late father. Elise’s thoughtfulness extended beyond correspondence. She and Al attended Colin’s high school graduation party in 2005, which meant a great deal to me and my husband, Steve.
I enjoyed seeing Elise again at the mortgage burning for Prince of Peace Parish earlier this summer. I knew that 84-year-old Al had been hospitalized for a good part of the year. But “Showboat” was finally going to be performed on the Showboat theatre and both he and Elise hoped he’d be strong enough to attend opening night. She invited me to join them. I accepted the invitation, but later discovered that opening night conflicted with my parish council meeting. Al and Elise made it to opening night and agreed to see another performance with me the following week.
They were concerned that threatening weather might keep me away, but I think God wanted me to enjoy a night with my friends in a theater full of good memories. I sat down in a seat between Al and Elise, just a few feet from the stage. Al reached over and gave me his trademark hug and smooch on the cheek.
The show was delightful and the singing excellent, but some unexpected surprises made the evening even more satisfying. Elise informed me that Sister Hilary Mullany, a Clinton Franciscan, had a prominent role as the “Showboat” captain’s wife. She played her role as cantankerous spouse with comedic flair, wearing a black wig and an exaggerated scowl on her face for most of the show. Watching her act was a priceless experience.
Meanwhile, seated behind us were John and Kay Schmitz, who are members with me of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. John said he had gotten involved in the Clinton Showboat Area Theatre a few years ago as a volunteer. He builds set pieces and advised me to keep an eye out for the chaise lounge and the kitchen cabinet he built for this production of “Showboat.”
He shared a funny story about the materials that went into stuffing the chaise lounge — including an old housecoat of Kay’s that had a cow on the front of it. When he learned how the chaise lounge would be used, he added extra legs beneath it so it wouldn’t flip over and send the actors flying. John received special thanks in the program.
During intermission, Elise took me for a tour of the Showboat Theatre, which has been enhanced over the years. It now includes a King’s Court in the lower-level reception area and a King’s Courtyard outdoors, overlooking the Mississippi River. Both are named in honor of Al. And, fittingly, the program had a page that read, simply, “To Al.”