In 1995, I was invited to give a voice recital at a college in Kentucky. I did it, but on the way home to PA, I promised myself that I would never put myself in that scary position again. Immediately, I heard within, “Oh yes you will, but you’ll do it with Oscar.” With that I sighed, “OK, if I can do it with Oscar.” My “OK” was contingent upon receiving “invitations” to sing. I vowed not to initiate anything on my own.
Although, I “did” nothing, I did wonder about what it was that I would be doing “with” Oscar. So, I began to ask and listen; gradually the ideas took form. In fact, this “doing” all seemed to be about ideas. What is an idea? Am I an idea? Gradually, the character of Anna from The King and I became prominent in my thoughts. I love Mrs. Anna. She is a great idea. Anna helped me stand up to stage fright when I played her in a 2 week 1987 State College Community Theatre production of The King and I at the Boal Barn Playhouse in Boalsburg, PA. A cast member told me that she used to watch Anna “take over” while I was standing in the wings waiting to make my entrance. I loved letting Anna sing and be in control. I listened to her. I imagined her talking with Oscar. I wanted to know about Oscar’s intimate relationship as a creator of sorts imaging forth his idea in the form we know as Mrs. Anna. Not the historical woman, but the musical theater image that Oscar conceived. Eventually, these ideas coalesced into an audience participation piece called Oscar and I.
In January 2001, I met Jeanette Smith, a Christian Science practitioner. She was the first person with whom I shared in depth the concept of Oscar and I. The vision was still in the thinking stages, but I described the script for her. It was not without many excuses like “I know this is different, but…” Eventually, she stopped me sternly and said, “Jessie, you must do this. It’s important that you let this piece just be what it is supposed to be. Stop making excuses and let it be.” She must have seen me wilt a little and then said firmly, “I’m going to tell you why I know that this is important.” Continuing, she explained, “My uncle, Lawrence Langner, was the original co-producer of both Oklahoma! and Carousel on Broadway. This is no coincidence, that you’re sharing this with me. Just listen and trust God.” In 2002, an invitation came my way to sing a Mother’s Day concert at the Centre County Library in Bellefonte, PA. I sang an all-Oscar program and dedicated it to him.
That was 10 years ago and tomorrow night, Oscar and I will be birthed with the musical aid of Richard Biever, my collaborator/director, and a willing audience of 60 Rodgers and Hammerstein-loving participants. Thank you to everyone who has helped bring this idea to life. I’m grateful for that “OK” 17 years ago.