Memories flood in like waves rushing to kiss sandy toes.
The stage looks the same. Towers of concrete and metal, sturdy. Then the art designers are unleashed upon their ‘canvas’. The soaring metal trusses are adorned with colorful lights. The pillars of man made stone are converted into a lush growing forest then transformed into a majestic castle, then back to a forest again. Scenes played out from stories written ages ago. A different world emerging with each minute that passes by.
The orchestra is warming up in the pit. Melodic sounds emanating from the depths below the crowd. I remember, as a child, wondering why the musicians were confined to performing under the stage. It seemed like a moat in front of the stage that held the audience back from the performers.
The sun is still shining over the age old pine trees. It is warm but it has been worse. We spread our blanket in front of wood slatted bench. The benches are the same, many are missing, replaced by open grass areas where patrons place their camp chairs with cup holders and reclining backs. The benches have been painted the same shade of green over and over again. Some things never change.
My teenagers flop onto the bench unimpressed by the lack of cell service and country music playing over the loud speakers. I gleefully chatter on about my past experiences here at Lincoln’s outdoor amphitheater, Pinewood Bowl. This is the 65th year of productions at Pioneer’s Park Pinewood Bowl. I don’t think my father has missed more than half a dozen performances. This was the big summer family event for our family. Mom would pop bags of popcorn (not microwave style, that wasn’t mainstream yet, air-popped corn, then transferred to plastic bags). The large Coleman cooler would get filled with water and each of us kids would be asked if we had a plastic cup ready to take with us, because, “We are not buying anything while we are there.” I still begged.
My first memory of Pinewood Bowl was Annie, Get Your Gun! I remember the strength of the characters, amazingly rough costumes, and the blank fired from a stage-gun into the metal rafters where a fake bird was then dropped onto the stage. Creating the illusion, to this small girl, of a true huntress displaying her skill with a weapon.
The list of plays I have witnessed is a long introduction to stage theater for me. The King and I, Guys and Dolls, Cats, Beauty and The Beast, Annie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers…..the list goes on and on. And now I can add Shrek to my viewing memories. This is an especially meaningful musical for me.
My teenagers were just small little ones when Shrek burst on to the big screen in all it’s green glory, toting a furry donkey with it. I was unsure as a new mother if a movie, even a children’s cartoon, with Eddie Murphy as a voice character would be appropriate for my young impressionable children (enter new mom scorn). I admit to viewing this particular movie more times than I can count. We treated ourselves to seeing it in the theater then buying not one but both the soundtracks and keeping those in the minivan, always. When the VHS (yes I wrote that right) was released we plunked down our hard earned cash for a copy. This was the movie that just never wore out. We enjoyed it as a family, often. So when I heard Pinewood Bowl would be doing the musical version of Shrek I couldn’t resist the opportunity to stroll down memory lane with my offspring once again.
As intermission approached I turned to my teenage boys, who were still sprawled on the bench, sandwiching their grandparents between them, and saw each of their faces in the fading light, remembering their childlike features molded now into young men. They were watching intently. I knew the memories of one of their favorite movies were flashing through their minds. Connections from childhood to young adulthood melding their memories.
The moon began it’s rise over the pine trees, fireflies graced us with their tiny lights as the sky faded from blue to black. The actors kept the energy of the second half rising till the big finish of the final song. The standing ovation for the cast was well earned. This was not an easy production to pull off and the whole cast made it look simple. Farquaad was on his knees for his entire performance. Donkey is of course covered in fur, on a balmy summer night in Nebraska. Green is not the natural skin tone of any human I know and Shrek was covered in green makeup with a huge head piece to achieve his ogre like look. Not to mention the rest of the cast in fairy dresses, long noses, armor, full body skeleton suits, and so much more. I give many thanks to all the performers for a wonderful night of entertainment and reviving childhood memories that spark smiles in my family and I.
“Now we need to watch the movie again” was the first response as we left the amphitheater. My smile is still glowing on my face. Their childhood memories and mine all intertwined in my heart.