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The first weekend of April in the Salt Lake City area was filled with more than the usual excitement of General Conference this year. It was also the 40th anniversary of Saturday’s Warrior and marked the release of the new, updated anniversary film. While there are many reviews and stories being published right now about this iconic LDS musical, mine is different, because from the very beginning I was there. Yes, as an original member of the BYU production in the spring of 1974, from moment one, I was there.
Saturday’s Warrior changed my life. Not that I wanted it to, mind you, or had a vision of what was in store back in 1974. But our Heavenly Father did.
The highlight of my high school years were the spring musicals, and when I got to BYU, I was ready for more. I was not interested enough or talented enough to be a drama major, but had enough sparkle and enthusiasm to be cast in productions from my first semester as a little freshman.
With several shows under my belt, by my sophomore year, “Hello Dolly” was the big slated musical production for Winter/Spring of 1974 and I was ready! My auditions in early December of 1973 went well, and as the callbacks from the open cast were narrowed down, I was called back again and again. How exciting it was to know that I was in the last auditions for a major production to be performed in the beautiful DeJong concert hall, with the live orchestra, fabulous costumes, packed houses, and then an additional 3-week run at the Promised Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City! I was reading again and again for one of the character parts and over the moon with the thrill of it all until one night, as I said my prayers, there was a very distinct impression that this was not a good direction for me. A darkness settled into my thoughts and spirit.
The surprising thought that this was not what my Heavenly Father wanted for me filled my mind as I prayed. I was gravely disappointed, my heart was heavy, and I didn’t know what to do. Continued prayers confirmed the strong impression. I believe I fasted for a day, and then sadly went to the director, Dr. Charles Whitman, and told him I would not be at the last call back.
He stared at me as though horns were growing out of my head. “Why? Are you sure? You know what this means, right? And future opportunities may be affected by this decision today? I don’t understand!” he said to me. I could tell he was disappointed and confused too.
I mumbled that I understood, but that I had to withdraw.
I went back to my dorm room and cried. Then cried even harder when the cast list went up and my name was not on it. Several of my friends were cast, and it was all I could do to be polite as they launched rehearsals, then we all went home for Christmas. With the return and the new semester starting in January, it was sad to be left out of the fun and excitement of this production.
At some point, I don’t remember how I learned exactly, the auditions for Saturday’s Warrior were announced in February, I believe. There was a brief description of it being a new musical for the Fine Arts Festival in March and April. The Fine Arts Festival each spring featured several new plays that played for several weeks, and highlighted by a grand ball in the Harris Fine Arts Center where there were also concerts, performances, and works of art displayed.
As I learned about the auditions for Saturday’s Warrior, there was an immediate resonance that I needed to be a part of this. I realized in a very clear way that being a part of Hello Dolly would have not allowed this in my schedule. However, as I read through the sample script for tryouts and learned more about this new musical my heart sank like a rock in a pond. It read like a glorified road show, from my MIA/ Young Women days where each Ward put together a 15-minute mini-musical and shared it with the other wards in the Stake as a competition. (Remember those???)
Oh, my …. From Hello Dolly to THIS? I remember sharing the script with my roommates and reading the parts, where we howled with laughter. YES. Fine for a roadshow, but for me now? No way. I repeat: No Way.
Even so, the prompting that this was something I needed to do would NOT leave. At last I gave in and went to watch the first night of open auditions. Dr. Harold Oaks (with whom I had done several plays before and truly adored) and Doug Stewart, the playwright, were both there. I remember how their faces lit up when I walked in and they enthusiastically welcomed me.
“You’re trying out?! Excellent!”
“No, I’m just here to watch ….” I quietly said.
And I did. It was a sad and sorry lot auditioning that night, including a performance of “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” that left all of us embarrassed. As I heard the scenes acted out for the first time in that room, Julie, Todd, the Matron, Elder Kessler, etc. I knew I wanted no part of this show, no matter how much I loved Dr. Oaks, or believed in the pre-existence and families.
I went home and apologized to Heavenly Father in prayer that there was really no way I could do this. My school work mattered more. My social life mattered more. Anything and everything mattered more than the time it would take to do this show and most of all, I did not want to be identified with it.
To my amazement, the impression that I NEEDED to and SHOULD do it was just as strong or stronger than the impression earlier that I was NOT to do Hello Dolly! In fact, it was like a stern warning from a loving Father. I came to know that not following this prompting would be an offense to Him based on the understanding we all have of how the Spirit prompts and guides us to do what is right.
So, I gave in. I do not remember my audition. I do remember my heart sinking yet again when the cast list went up and I had the part of “Alice Flinders, age 12-13.” At the bottom of the cast list were the instructions to meet in a room at the Harris Fine Arts Center the following Saturday morning for our first read through.
I went by myself and recognized no one, other than Dr. Oaks and Doug Stewart, But there, in the middle of the room, was a grand piano! And a handsome dark-haired man that was soon introduced to us with some fanfare as Lex De Azevedo, just arrived from Los Angeles for today’s read-through.
After an opening prayer, the scripts were passed out. They were printed with the old purple-ink ditto and still damp from the mimeograph machine. We started the first read through, where I learned that Alice Flinders was a precocious preteen who worshipped her big sister Julie. We read through the opening scene were the Flinders siblings brothers prepared for earth life …. Yes, the lines that we all know by heart now were read, and then ….
We heard the first bouncy notes of “Pulling Together”! It was cute and fun, and Lex clearly loved it. I even had a little solo: “What’ll I do if the kids make fun, ‘cause I’m kinda dumb, what’ll I do?” Within a few moments, we were listening to the beautiful introduction and first luscious chords of “The Circle of Our Love”, and then to the melancholy “Sailing On” … and the hilarious “Humble Way.”
Yes, I was there to hear those gorgeous songs. For the first time. From a grand piano where Lex De Azevedo played them from heart, and sang to us, then encouraged us to sing along.
Hmmmm. Maybe it was going to be …. OK. Maybe. Then Lex returned to California and it was back to just us kids.
Rehearsals were in a word, ROUGH. Rough and rougher. Every rehearsal started with stacks of new pages of changed script, still damp from the mimeograph machine, and now on colored paper so we could separate yesterday’s changes from the day’s before, from the day’s before. They all needed to be organized in our notebooks, and we sat on the floor as page numbers and colors were called out.
The exciting costumes that I had dreamed about for Hello Dolly were, of course, not to be. This musical was set in Anytown, USA 1974, so we all wore our own clothing, which though retro now, were just our regular wardrobes then. Uh, huh. The huge collars, wide pants, double knits. So ugly, but we didn’t know so at the time. This was the style and there was not much need for other costuming, other than the organza choir robe type gowns that we all wore in the pre-existence scenes over our regular clothes.
I believe it took a while for the cast to be fully filled out, and the Mom and Dad Flinders came to us as a BYU professor and his wife, long past child-bearing years, but they were delightful. Some of the dancers and chorus members were also brought in later.
We limped along, and my initial impression that this was a glorified roadshow was confirmed rehearsal after rehearsal. My greatest enjoyment for these weeks was sharing the corn with my roommates, reading and re-rereading the constantly changing script.
I absolutely dreaded opening night, Oh, yes, indeed I did. I knew that the audience, if anybody even came, would surely see it the same way I did: Roadshow. I think everyone else in the production felt the same, and, like me, figured that at most there would be a semi-interested group of supportive family and roommates in each audience to laugh and applaud politely. I didn’t broadcast that this was where I was spending my free time and how many performances there were going to be. I invited NO ONE to opening night. No way. I just wanted it all to be OVER.
I was so determined to not attach myself to this whole thing that I wasn’t very friendly at the rehearsals. The one exception was Eileen Habenicht, the girl who played my big sister Julie Flinders. We hit it off immediately, although her part was major and she didn’t have much free time. As far as the rest of the cast, I got the sense that they all felt pretty much the same way I did … that it was an opportunity to sing, dance and perform, but that it was a “filler” activity without too much significance or need to bond.
At last the dreaded Opening Night came. To my surprise, there was a very nice-sized audience in the Pardoe Theatre! An even greater surprise came when there was genuine laughter and warmth from them as of the first moment the Flinders family came on! Julie and Todd’s first scene, as I watched from the wings, was charming and real. Eileen’s gorgeous voice in the “Circle of our Love” soared with Todd, and the choir behind them was rich and full. “Daddy’s Nose” was corny as could be, but cute and well done, and as the slide show for “Didn’t We Love Him” showing Jimmy as a little boy started, I realized I was crying along with the audience!
What, on earth and in heaven, was happening!?
Without a pause, the show moved from scene to scene. As a 19 year old playing 12 year old Alice, Dr. Oaks had let me add some comic touches that were a lot of fun for everyone. Elder Kessler and Elder Greene were hilarious. A delightful character named Betty Lou, played by a large red-headed gal, trailed Elder Green with a loud giggle and calling him “Pumpkin” from the pre-existence through earth life, was adorable, although her part was cut when the show ended. The little girl who played “Emily was only about 4, but so sweet and capable. Sylvia Spicer Ward as the Matron was perfect and to this day how the Matron is “supposed to b”e in my mind.
The excellent voices of the main characters and the plot melded together, as the doctrine that means so much to each of us were so creatively presented. By the time it climaxed with Jimmy’s crisis and Pam’s death, there wasn’t a dry eye anywhere. Including mine!
As the performance concluded, I was stunned. The audience was stunned. There were roars of laughter mixed with tears, applause and then a deafening standing ovation.
And I learned that I had been absolutely dead wrong about this show.
My Heavenly Father, however, had known all along. And made sure I would be a part of it all.
The show sold out the next day. Extra performances were added, but tickets were a precious commodity. Anyone who had anything to do with this gem was the toast of BYU, and we were instant mini-celebrities. My little part of “Allice Flinders” earned me a nomination for BYU’s “Best Comic Actress” that year. Playing that part gave me the confidence to audition for a summer stock show in Jackson Hole Wyoming that summer of 1974, where, with the experience I had gained from playing Alice Flinders, I got the part of another precocious young teen-aged girl in another popular LDS musical of the 70’s, “The Order is Love.”
Eileen became a wonderful, loyal friend, who also auditioned and was cast in the Jackson Hole show.
That 1974 summer in Jackson was the summer of a lifetime for a just-turned 20 year old girl. We sang and danced every night at the Jackson Hole Playhouse. The girls in the cast lived in the crazy apartment above the theatre, and played at Jenny Lake during the day. We acquired enough fun times and stories to last a lifetime! Some of us got day jobs at a new ice cream and pizza parlor, as singing waitresses where we sang and danced some more. Best of all, I had my first real romance that summer with one of the very talented young men. I wouldn’t trade the joy of that summer for a million bucks.
I returned to BYU at the end of the summer of 1974 as a Junior, and quickly found a way to room with the girls that I had grown to love in Jackson Hole that summer. That year, it WAS the right thing to audition for the big musical, “Music Man” once again to be performed in the DeJong concert hall and the Promised Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City. I was cast as “Ethel Toffelmeir” (a “Pick-A-Little” ladyand the Shapoopie Girl at the player piano) to my Jackson Hole boyfriend’s Marcellus, Harold Hill’s sidekick. We brought the house down every night as the 6 foot 2 of him leaped into the arms of the less than five foot me at the end of our big number.
During the run of that show, an advertising agency contacted the BYU drama department, and hired several of us “Pick-A-Little” ladies to do a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial in Salt Lake City. They paid us $35 and treated us to lunch, and I can still sing the song for it: “The 99 center, the 99 center, two finger-licking good pieces of chicken, ROOOOOLLLLL and fixin’s!” Once again, a priceless good time. Who knows how much chicken was sold through that commerical, but seeing it on TV and hearing others get a kick out of it is a story that is still fun to share.
As far as Saturday’s Warrior, Lex and his team had immediately gone, after the BYU 1974 show, to Los Angeles and put together a much more lavish cast and production, to be billed as “The Original Cast.” It, too, was an immediate sensation in the Southern California area.
For us in Utah, the summer of 1975 meant another, bigger grander production of Saturday’s Warrior slated for high school theatres in Spanish Fork and Salt Lake City. Of course, at this point we all wanted to be in it! And they wanted me! However, I was busy with Music Man, and had no options. My cute sister Susan, however, and I had always been mistaken as twins. By then she was a student at BYU with a great idea …. What if SHE did the first part of the run in Spanish Fork, and I did the rest of it in Salt Lake over the summer? They graciously agreed, so she got in on the fun too, and made some marvelous friends with the experiences that went with that.
The summer of 1975 was very busy, I worked by day as a secretary on campus at BYU, and travelled up to Salt Lake each night on the big blue bus that had been purchased to transport the Saturday’s Warrior cast and chorus. Every night, streams and streams of excited people would fill the theatre of the high school theatre where we performed. Every night, there was laughter and tears as we performed, and lives and testimonies, both of the audience and the performers, were touched.
The greater joy of this summer, however, was that Saturday’s Warrior was a year old, and EVERYONE wanted some piece of us, or to know more. Amazingly, a year later meant that it was not unusual for people to come up to us after the show, and tell us how it had changed THEIR lives. More than one married couple showed us a new baby named “Emily.” I remember one family in particular who said, “We had money saved for a family vacation to Disneyland, but after seeing at BYU last year …. Well, here’s our baby!”
More special to me than the nightly performances that summer were the Sunday evening firesides organized where cast members had been invited to speak to a church congregation. We would sing the songs, and then share our personal experiences and testimonies of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It was a thrill for me to share my story, because mine was not one of “how great I am to be in this show” but a truly heart-felt “How great our Heavenly Father is, to guide us and direct us in the paths that he knows will bless us!”
At the end of the summer of 1975, it was time to hang up my actress hat, and get serious about finishing school. I focused on my classes for my senior year, and my student ward. No more shows. In the summer of 1976 I graduated with a degree in Child Development and Family Relations, along with a business office skills minor so that I could easily get and keep a job. (Thanks, Dad, for insisting on that. It’s why I can do what I do today with a computer and an online business.)
It would seem that Saturday’s Warrior should have ended for me then, but it didn’t. Eileen continued then and to this day as a dear and cherished best friend. Several years later, in 1979, I moved to the Washington D.C. area with a couple of the Jackson Hole Wyoming roommates, and started a new life there with the large population of LDS singles. It wasn’t too long before Eileen joined us and, with her gorgeous voice and musical talents, became a Singing Sargeant in the United States Air Force.
Another couple of years went by, where our lives were filled with work and roommates, and the fun of our LDS singles ward. Then one day, in the fall of 1982, at a law firm in Washington D.C. where I was working as a temporary secretary, there was a handsome young man at the Xerox machine whom I recognized … and who recognized me! We almost started to sing “I’ve Seen That Smile Somewhere Before” because it was TRUE! Although it was a BYU ward way back in 1973, and not the pre-existence where we remembered each other from.
In a very direct way, Saturday’s Warrior led me from one fun summer to the next, and to the friends who brought me to Washington, D.C., who brought me to my wonderful Bob, who was from the D.C. area. We were married in 1984 in the Salt Lake City temple, and raised our family of five in Northern Virginia. The Circle of our Love …. It truly goes forever.
As the years went by, and people talked about Saturday’s Warrior, I was able to share my experience with both prayer, and the show itself. People ALWAYS listened, and I knew that story was meant to be shared to strengthen others. Eventually the 1989 movie came out, and my own children had a chance to see it all.
During those years, one of the “Bad-Boy-Mack’s Friends” dancers moved into our Ward, Kirk Nielson. His wife Jan became another life-time best friend. She is an accomplished pianist, and we often sang the Saturday’s Warrior songs together, laughing and remembering, and frequently gathering a crowd around the piano of people who wanted to “hear the whole story!”
Eileen, who also met her husband in the Washington D.C. area, is still a best friend. To this day the four of us spend time together as often as possible, and attended the new movie of Saturday’s Warrior on the day it opened in Provo. Just a few weeks ago, I recognized a beautiful visitor in our ward as “The Matron” from that first production, and oh, how fun it is to reconnect. In my mind, she is the only “real” matron …
As I look back on my life, every good thing that has happened to me in my adult life can be directly linked to those amazing prayers as a little 19 year old student at BYU. I will be ever grateful for them, and the power from heaven that was far beyond my own that gave me the courage to be obedient. I truly believe this is how the Atonement works, allowing us to be and do things far beyond our own strength or abilities … or even interests.
Eileen and I and our husbands were there for Opening Day of the new Anniversary movie at a theatre in Provo. We were not invited to any of the VIP premier celebration events. Our status as the original cast of Saturday’s Warrior has been long forgotten. I don’t think anybody even knew us, but we were happy to be vocal about it, and had a circle of people to tell our story to.
As I prepared to write this article, I contacted the BYU Drama department for documentation. The original score, script and documents are safely within the vaults of the L Tom Perry Special Collections section of the Harold B Lee Library at BYU. I was able to contact Dr. Harold Oaks, now retired from BYU. He and his wife have served four missions and he now serves in the Provo temple. He remembered me, and as I asked him about his memories, he voice was as clear and strong as it had been in his days a Drama professor during the 70’s 80’s and 90’s at BYU.
“Well, here was a light-hearted musical expressing strong views on things that we hold dear. We didn’t know what the response would be, but it was exciting to take it on. No one knew what to expect, and it surprised us all”
To say the least … And the rest, as they say, is history.
Did I love the new movie? You bet! It was wonderful, although every one of little Alice Flinders lines have been cut, …. Even her finely penned solo ….
“Once I baked a strudel for the county fair
Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker both were there
After the judging, they picked to my surprise
Not my strudel, but my noodle for the winning prize!”
Yes, my solo from Daddy’s Nose has been cut. No good laughs this time for Alice. Oh well. Tempis Fugit!
I very much missed the “Will I Wait For You” and “the Dear John- He’s Just A Friend” number. It seems to me they could have included those classics. But overall, it was pretty darned special!
Eileen will ALWAYS be my favorite Julie, Alex Boye is a powerhouse, but so was Sylvia Spicer Ward. Elder Kessler, that Eileen happened to see the second time she saw the movie in Provo, was absolutely adorable then, and now is just as cute as a senior in his 60’s. I understand that there have been sad even some deaths with some of the cast members, as will happen in any group within a 40 year time span. So, when all is said and done, what can be said, other than … Who are these children coming down, coming down?
They are each US who cherish the gospel, in these latter days, the LDS culture, our families, and all that goes with living and loving every bit of it. They are us, whether we were the original BYU cast, or the original Los Angeles Cast, or whatever cast is claiming to be “The Original”.
These children are, quite simply, all of all of us who sing the songs, whether on stage or in our living rooms along with the movie, because, Saturday’s Warrior changes lives … for the good. In a moment with delightful entertainment, and for a lifetime through prayer and perspectives, and choice.
If you’re still not sure, just ask me. Because … I was there. And still am.
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life, available HERE.
She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999 presenting for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband Bob are the parents of five children and grandparents of ten. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson Tennessee, close to Memphis where they center their online business, a very helpful herbal detox in keeping with the Word of Wisdom.