Reflecting on pages of lifeby Chuck Graham on Apr. 16, 2009, under Calendar Plus
Citizen Staff Writer
The Chinese like to say it is bad luck to be born in interesting times.
But even though St. Louis native Ken Page, born in 1954, spent his life and his show business career surviving turbulent racial change, the assassination of several American leaders and the AIDS crisis, he turned the experience into a one-man performance of Broadway hits that has been called “lusty, life-affirming, yet also haunting.”
The Broadway star has titled his singing autobiography “Page By Page,” which he brings to the Berger Performing Arts Center for two performances this weekend, presented by Invisible Theatre.
“Page By Page”celebrates a barrier- busting life that began when he was an African-American teen playing the Jewish tradition-loving Tevye in a Catholic high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
When young Page played Horace Vandergelder in his high school production of “Hello, Dolly!” the casting made classroom history as the first interracial couple ever to appear on the school’s stage.
In the early 1970s those were big steps, Page recalled, and he’s always been very proud of taking them.
Coming of age when national political figures were being murdered for their beliefs, he bemoans the losses of “Martin, Malcolm, Medgar and both Kennedys.” Social issues have continued to be important to this performer. In 1973 Page saw his first touring Broadway show, “Seasaw.”
“I was mesmerized,” he told one reporter. “Not only with the show but with the people in it. They were short, tall, Asian, black, white.”
Just three years later Page was on Broadway himself, playing another white guy, Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an all-African American production of “Guys and Dolls.” It is Nicely-Nicely, we remember, who sings the show-stopping “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”
In 1977 Page had the transitional role of the Lion in the African-American adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” known as “The Wiz.” But the next year, Page truly blossomed, winning the Drama Desk Award for his portrayal of Fats Waller in “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
There’s lots more to “Page By Page,” including his casting as Old Deuteronomy in the original production of “Cats” in 1982. Borrowing from that experience Page’s show also includes “Memory,” the signature song from “Cats,” which he performs as a poignant remembrance of his peers lost in the AIDS plague.
“I haven’t looked at the world in the same way since,” he has said.
On the life-affirming side, Page also tells stories of our shared humanity and works through a 25-song list that includes “Summertime Love,” “Bloody Mary,” “Broadway Baby,” “Ease on Down the Road,” “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and “Honeysuckle Rose.”
Actor re-creates roles he’s had, including as white characters
IF YOU GO
What: Invisible Theatre presents Ken Page’s “Page By Page” musical autobiography
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd.
Price: $42 general admission; group discounts available
Info: 882-9721, www.invisibletheatre.com