Elvis was in the building

Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist

The lights in the lobby dimmed, then darkened. The crowd had been chattering and laughing ever since they entered the theatre. They grew quiet.

The music started rather low and rather slow and could barely be heard in the lobby. Then, the sound of brass horns grew in volume and intensity. The sound filled the theatre. The music was unmistakable. The meaning of the music was unmistakable.

Elvis … was in … the building.

The theatre was packed. It is always packed when Mike Albert and the Big “E” Band bring their Elvis show to the Murphy Theatre.

Many fans were wearing Elvis shirts. One gentleman was dressed just like Elvis, including, sunglasses, sideburns and a jet-black Elvis hairdo. They came ready to rock and roll with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. As the evening of music played out, the fans had every chance to rock ‘n’ roll with the King. He might not have been the real king, but he is one of the best impersonators of Elvis in the country.

To say the Murphy Theatre is one of the shining treasures of this community is an understatement. The music. The stage. The lighting. The Murphy Theatre really helped bring Elvis back to life this past Saturday. It was a great evening and great fun.

Mike Albert did a phenomenal job, but the behind-the-scenes heroes who really made the Elvis show, and every show at the Murphy Theatre, come to life and shine are the technicians who control the lighting, the sound and the staging.

Of course the executive director, Maretta Alden, and artistic director, Timothy Larrick, with the steady direction of the theatre board of directors and the diligent support of the administrative staff, provide the framework for the many excellent shows that come to the Murphy. But, it is the technical staff, led by their supervisor, Dave Stewart, with Joe Spicer, May Gerchak, Dan Stewart and Dan Kennelly with various volunteers, who actually breathe life into every show.

In the past, I have had the distinct pleasure of serving on the Murphy board of directors. I’ve danced on the stage during performances of The Nutcracker Suite. I’ve emceed a few shows. I have even had the pleasure of portraying the ghost of Charlie Murphy during a bicentennial Murphy Christmas show.

Being part of the Murphy family has been an extraordinary privilege.

One of my favorite memories of volunteering at the Murphy Theatre happened a few years ago. It happened during a previous Elvis show starring Mike Albert.

My wife, Debbie, asked me to help in the concession stand before the show and during intermission. How could I say no? We were popping popcorn and bagging and boxing with some popcorn for the early customers. We had plenty of help.

We were selling some concessions when the head usher for the evening stuck her head in and asked if I could help usher. They had a volunteer call in sick.

The usher boss had me working the main floor of the theatre. I had seated about three or four patrons and was walking back, up the aisle, toward the lobby when Dave Stewart stopped me. Dave was sitting in the back of the theatre at his lighting control board.

Dave and I have known each other for over 30 years. He asked, “Hey, have you ever worked the spotlight?” I told him I hadn’t, but I would be glad to help if I could.

The next thing I know, I’m getting a lesson in operating the spotlight. Dave told the usher-boss that he was stealing me. I practiced a few more minutes on expanding and narrowing the spotlight beam and moving the spotlight around on the stage.

The lights in the theatre dimmed, then darkened. The chatter and laughter stopped. That distinctive music started. The sound of brass horns grew louder. It was showtime.

Elvis strode onto the stage. He suddenly owned the theatre and everyone in it. I had him in the center of the spotlight. I kept Elvis in the spot light during his entire show. It was great fun.

When you get the chance, go to a show at the Murphy. When you get the chance, volunteer.

Who knows. You might graduate from popping corn to ushering to keeping the spotlight on the King of Rock ‘n Roll; all within 30 minutes.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.


Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist