Sunday, September 27, 2015

A special night with Vicki Lawrence, Mama and a special fan named Elyse

As a kid in grade school way back in the dark ages (also known as the 1960s), I was allowed to stay up late only one school night a week - and that was to watch "The Carol Burnett Show." Every Monday night at 10, my mother and I would grab some munchies and something cold to drink, take our respective corners on the couch, and let our daily troubles fade away as Carol and her gang kept us entertained.

I loved the show and faithfully watched it throughout its 11 years of merriment. What didn't end then, however, was my fascination with the career of Vicki Lawrence, who inspired many theater kids to dream that one day we too might find ourselves discovered by a famous star and be given an opportunity of a lifetime. (Vicki is only a handful of years older than me; she was a high school senior when she started on the show in 1967, and I was a seventh grader.) That didn't happen to the vast majority of us, of course, but as a big fan of Vicki's work, watching her grow and mature as a performer was a treat - and the "Mama's Family" spin-off and her daytime talk show were part of my TV viewing habits for several years to come.

So when I learned the Macomb Center was opening its 2015-16 season with "Vicki Lawrence & Mama: A Two-Woman Show," I knew I had to get tickets. And so I did.

Then, a few days ago, I received a call from Sandy Hazelton-Pianko of the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, who invited me to attend a private meeting between Vicki and a special fan that was to take place a short while before the night's sold-out performance. And, of course, I said yes - I'd love to be there!

The fan was 28-year-old Elyse Zebra, who has Downs Syndrome. She's been a major fan of Vicki's for more than 15 years, ever since the first time she laid eyes on Thelma Harper, the role Vicki played on "Mama's Family." And so Elyse's family - who bought tickets for the show - contacted the Macomb Center to see if it was possible to arrange the meeting. It was - but Elyse didn't know her dream to meet Vicki would come true until she walked through the door of the Macomb Center's intimate black-box theater and discovered her favorite star was standing there waiting to greet her.

It was a wonderful and memorable moment - one that impressed me for several reasons. For starters, it was great that the Macomb Center staff was agreeable to arrange such a life-changing experience for this young woman. But more importantly, in an era that's saturated with the antics and bad behavior of its "stars," it's moments like this that make you appreciate the many positive things stars do in secret or when the public isn't watching. Vicki didn't have to meet this young woman, but she did - and then she warmly spent plenty of time with Elyse to truly make it a memorable event for her.

If that's not a class act, then I don't know what is.

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So how was "Vicki Lawrence & Mama: A Two-Woman Show," you might be wondering? As my guest said immediately after the performance, "That was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time!" (And that's from someone who wasn't very familiar with Vicki or Mama!) I agreed 100% with her, as I laughed through both halves: the first with Vicki and the second with Mama.

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Here are two videos from yesterday's meeting: The first is Elyse's arrival, and then her conversation with Vicki.

And for a bonus, since many people aren't aware this exists, the third video is a complete CBS special from 1982 that takes a more serious look at Mama and her family - which helps explain the dynamics that shaped their lives...

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