The reason that I'm in Chicago right now is specifically because there is a fundraiser/reunion of sorts for the School of Communication at the beloved Northwestern University. I'm not big on reunions, tending to avoid them at all costs, but there is a fundraising event tonight which was near-impossible to miss. More on that later -- I probably won't be back in time tonight and won't write about it until tomorrow. And besides, I'm staying with relatives who live walking distance from the school, so that makes commuting to it Really Easy.
I don't expect to go to many of the reunion events, though as long as I'm here anyway, I've gone to a few. Last night, there was a Welcome Reception which I attended. There was good food -- always a plus, though I only knew one person there. That was my pal Wally Podrazik, who I've mentioned here, the curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communication, among his many other hats. However, I ran into a few "Facebook friends," who I do know through that social media service. One of the very recent grads I spoke with (I think from 2016) was a young woman named Dana Balkin, who was a hoot. An explosive, but deeply-warm personality who I have a feeling could have talked until next Tuesday if it became important to -- "I know that I have a shy personality and am much too laid back." -- yet was equally happy to listen to the conversation and even ask questions, a rare and impressive combination for a professional talker. She acknowledged that she never plays poker because her face is too expressive about everything. "When I text someone, my roommate can tell what I'm writing just by looking at me." And yes, not shockingly, she's an aspiring actress. I only mention her name here because I sense she'll do well. Plus, she gets a lot of bonus points for her favorite TV series being Columbo, which speaks a lot about her personality, as well...
There were also two reunion-group gatherings I went to. This wasn't a reunion by class year, but for the whole School of Communication (known as the School of Speech, when I was there). Most of the events they're holding are general lectures or presentation. The "reunions" are being handled by activity. So, one that I attended was for the radio station, WNUR. And again, I only knew one person there -- his name was Wally Podrazik. It was nice though to see their new set-up, which is very impressive, and it's not all digital. Bizarre, but wonderful to see is that they've retained the LP collection, and it's huge. And alongside everything are two turntables for the albums. One of the DJs there at the time was pulling out albums for her shift, noting that she particularly loves music from the '60s, and especially the Beach Boys. (Wally particularly liked hearing of her appreciation of that era's music, since he is a major Beatles expert and lectures on them across the country. However, I noted to the girl, Tuuli, that "Wouldn't It Be Nice" if he liked the Beach Boys as much, and "God Only Knows" why he didn't. Fortunately, I got a big enough laugh that I wasn't looked at like a blithering idiot. Actually, I had as much fun talking with the current students as I did seeking out any "reunion" folk. Also, there was happily even more good food there.
After that, I went to a small reunion for the Mee-Ow Show. That is a student-run stage show that was created my senior year as an alternative to the long-established and high-regarded Waa-Mu show that, while it's a student show, has more faculty involvement. (The "Mee-Ow" name is not just a twist on "Waa-Mu," of course, but refers to the school's nickname being the Wildcats.) I wrote for that first-year show, having one song in it that I wrote both the music and lyrics for. Actually, I had two songs, but I went to a rehearsal one night and saw that bizarrely they had edited out about 30 seconds from the middle of the song, making it sort of stupid. When I asked the producer why, he said the show was running long, and they had to shorten it. I noted that they'd stand more success at that trimming the interminable 11-minute sketch that preceded it, rather than by cutting the middle of the song. My argument did not win the day, and I was given two options: leave the song as is, with the cut, or take the song out of the show. I chose the latter.
I didn't know anyone at this event (Wally Podrazik was apparently not involved with it...), though there were two actors I knew of, and spoke with -- Richard Kind and Craig Bierko. Richard and I spoke a bit about Larry Gelbart, since he had been a speaker at the wonderful, but unfortunate memorial for Larry a few years ago. Also, I asked him a few questions about a Stephen Sondheim musical he was in, Bounce (among other names it went by, including Gold), but which never made it to Broadway. (Though he did star there in a revival of Larry Gelbart's play, Sly Fox.) Craig Bierko notably got a Tony nomination for playing 'Harold Hill,' in the Broadway revival of The Music Man -- of which I've posted several videos here -- but I mentioned that I was going to praise a movie he starred in that he probably didn't hear a lot, Sour Grapes, which Larry David wrote and directed. He laughed, saying that no, he didn't hear about that much. It's a very funny movie, but deeply mean-spirited as two best friends keep one-upping the other with practical jokes to get back at the other, as an argument between them gets out of control. Normally I don't like mean-spirited at all, but this was very clever. Craig noted that he thought that Larry seemed to have put in all the nasty things that were probably took dark for Seinfeld.
As reunion events, none of them struck my fancy, since I'm not a big reunion guy, though I enjoyed the few conversations I had, and liked talking with the students at all of them. But mainly, I'm here for the even tonight. More on that upcoming.
I'll just say that it's a gala with about 30-40 alumni from Broadway theater, film and TV (no doubt why Kind and Bierko were around), which is being hosted by fellow-alum Stephen Colbert. I figured that as long as I was planning a trip into Chicago around now, this was the time to make the trip...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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