The 90s! A new decade. My fourth, when you think about it.
So I came back to Houston ready to be in Camelot at Theatre Under the Stars, starring Robert Goulet. There was this cute chick from Dallas who was there to play Lady Anne. That was no Lady — that was my wife! Yes, it was Laura Jane Bigbee, then known professionally as Laura Burton. We hit it off, and hung out together. Something was clearly going on there.
In Camelot, I always say that I played "Sir Third-From-The-Left", but I did get to sing the "Guinevere" solo ("Out the room/Down the hall..."). It was exciting to get a nice dramatic baritone solo in a show that had Robert Goulet and Chuck Wagner in it!
I don't remember the exact sequence, but at Houston Grand Opera I also did the chorus in a production of Samson et Dalila, and in the Harold Prince production of Madama Butterfly. The former was pretty boring, but the latter was a wonderful, Bunraku-style production, with Diana Soviero a very moving Cio-Cio San.
Next came The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, in which I was cast as an Aggie. After Camelot, I went ahead and joined Equity. I thought I had made a good enough impression that I could take the risk, and it paid off. Whorehouse was my first Equity contract. I was onstage with some mighty good dancers, and I worked extremely hard to be able to keep up with them in the Aggie Dance. But I at least managed to pass muster.
I remember being in the dressing room when the absolutely unbelievable, out-of-the-blue, that-does-not-compute news came that Jim Henson had died. What? How was that possible? Even though being a puppeteer, or anything other than a musical actor, was very far from my mind, I was shaken to the core. Devastated.
During these shows, Laura came back to visit, and we spent a lot of time together. I think the thing that really cemented the deal between us was Nicholas Nickleby. It took a lot of convincing, but late one afternoon I got her to watch the first hour of the RSC version. She liked it. We watched another. And another. And another. We got all the way through Part One. Then we went and ate Chinese food, came back, and watched Part Two, finishing at some horrible hour the next morning. I think that was when love truly bloomed, and I was convinced she was The One.
I turned 27.
So, TUTS sent out a tour of Mame, starring Juliet Prowse, based on the production we had done the previous fall. We had to audition for it. And I have to say, the thing that I believe really cemented the deal for my getting cast, was that I had played Ito! And I was therefore a reasonable candidate to understudy the role for the tour. So, while I don't really believe "everything happens for a reason", it was nice that even something I considered a "low point" had a very tangible, concrete payoff a few years down the road.
The tour was a lot of fun, and Laura joined me at least a couple of times on the road. Let's see, where all did we go? Atlanta, Detroit, Grand Rapids, New Orleans, Stamford, Richmond, and more. Best of all? Memphis! I got to play the Orpheum, stay at the Peabody, and hang with the old crowd down at the P&H Cafe. I forget exactly where we played in Florida, but I got to drive over and spend a day at Disney World! At last! Of course I didn't know this, but I would return, and very soon...
We hoped the tour would get extended, but it didn't. Laura and I formulated a plan to move to New York together. I remember telling my parents. They took it reasonably well. I don't remember exactly what happened when, but Laura went ahead and moved up to Brooklyn at the end of 1990, and I believe I drove to Houston and Dallas to corral all our belongings, with the plan being that I would join her right after the first of the year.
On November 21st, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson was broadcast. This was the first time we heard Kermit since Jim Henson had died. It was a pretty tough moment, and Steve Whitmire has gotten a lot better at Kermit than he was on that special. Still, the whole thing was handled delicately and sensitively.
Big year. Momentous. Good.