Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Memoriam: Lou Rubin

Posted by Bruce Miller
In my 20s, I acted a lot in Richmond’s theatres. My first “professional” gig was at Barksdale Experimental, a one-season-wonder that spun off from Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern and took place in the vacated Massey, Wood and West offices on Lombardy St. Barksdale Experimental lit up the Richmond theatre scene in 1969-70, and then closed, due to lack of financial resources, just before launching their second season.

Some things never change.

My second acting gig outside the University of Richmond, where I was a theatre student, was at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse. “Theatre” now; “Playhouse” then. I was called at around 3 in the afternoon and asked if I could drive out immediately, rehearse for about an hour, and play the small role of the Russian tenor that night in Fiddler on the Roof. The actor who had been playing the role had been in an accident and they needed to replace him for the run of the show. Apparently I fit the costume and rumor had it I could hit the high notes.

Rehearsal went great. I can’t remember whether it was with Wayne or Jane Batty, the two of whom shared the responsibilities of musical director. I learned the song and the simple choreography and agreed to work my way into other scenes during upcoming performances. At least the bottle dancers would have a tenor that evening to accompany their dance.

When showtime came, it turned out that the other Batty was conducting. In performance, the tempo for the song was, I swear, about twice as fast as what I’d rehearsed. The lyrics were in Russian. I totally botched the number.

I tell this story today not to criticize the Battys, whom I love. It wasn’t their fault; it was just one of those things—and they were very kind to me. I tell the story because it was immediately after my botched number that I met Lou Rubin for the first time.

He was playing Tevye, one of his three classic roles at the Mill, and he certainly had no time to spend with the new kid whom he’d never met. Nonetheless, he had heard, perhaps even witnessed, my tongue-tied performance, and as soon as we both were offstage at the same time, he ran up to me, gave me a big hug and said, “You were very good. No one out there speaks Russian. They didn’t even notice. Oh, I’m Lou Rubin, by the way. Good to meet you. I play Tevye.” Then he ran back on stage.

Today at 2, I’ll be going to Lou Rubin’s funeral. He died on Thursday at age 87. A sweeter man never lived.

The Mill was founded by two great couples: Buddy and Betty Callahan and Lou and Fran Rubin. When Buddy died earlier this year, Phil and I were in New York and we missed his funeral. I continue to be heartsick that I wasn’t there.

I loved and benefited greatly from my long association with Buddy and Betty, Lou and Fran. We dedicated our recent production of Annie to Buddy’s memory. We will be dedicating our upcoming production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to Lou.

I’ll write more soon about both incredible men and the huge impact they had on Richmond theatre in general and the founding of Theatre IV.

--Bruce Miller

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