Command Performance For The Queen 👑
“A jester’s humor comes from a place of truth and wit.”
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When I think of a court jester, the image that comes to mind is a medieval clown wearing a comical hat, pictured as the joker card on a deck of playing cards. But during Shakespeare’s time, the jester named “The Fool” in his play King Lear had the intuitive role of keeping the King informed of his mistakes. While the court jester's role was to entertain royalty and make them happy, in King Lear, The Fool is allegorical for honesty and good sense and sought in the court for his discernment and guidance by the monarch. As a court entertainer, The Fool had the privilege to mock and speak candidly, scrutinizing the monarch in his comical routines. In some ways, he serves as King Lear’s conscience, reminding him of his follies. Hence, Shakespeare named this character “The Fool.” While the era of court jesters ended during King Charles l reign, the employment of entertainers continued with good pay if they made the royals happy. Later, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the first permanent theatre was built where her favorite plays were performed at her command, lending the name “command performances” to these early presentations. Eventually, the Royal Command Performance, as recognized today, was born and continues in modern times where, at the request of the British Monarchy, performers present their show. In November of 1995, Queen Elizabeth ll requested our performance on The Royal Variety Performance, a prestige show presented live for the Queen and televised to over 150 million viewers.
November is a magical month. It’s the time in fall when the harvest season transcends to the start of winter, marked by nature falling into slumber until spring—a short period when naked trees wait in dormancy for the first snow to fall. A crispness in the air promising a cold December. Not autumn, and not winter. This time of year brings back nostalgic memories of performing in theaters throughout the United States. It’s the fall season and also the season when most performers tour. So, I’ve always had an affinity for this time of year. At the end of our season tour that year, we played in enchanting London. A show like something out of a fairytale, performing for the Queen and her court, making that part of the fall even more magical.
Our popularity in the United Kingdom began following several successful seasons co-starring on the Thames TV Show “Best of Magic” produced by John Fisher. We also starred in another TV show, Magic Comic Strip, and in the most prominent magic TV Special, Disney’s Night of Magic, produced by British Thames TV and Fisher, filmed at Disneyland Paris and distributed worldwide to millions of viewers. There was a time when London became my second home. Our reputation had grown, and as a result, when we walked the streets of London, we would often be recognized by TV viewers. The Queen was one of those viewers, and because of our TV fame, she’d requested our performance for the Royal Variety Performance, followed by dinner at the Ritz. As a kid growing up in the countryside in California’s agricultural region, I just wanted to pinch myself to make sure this was real. The adrenaline rush I felt from reading the invitation made my head spin. Still, disappointment soon enveloped me as I realized the following day after the presentation in London that we had other obligations performing for a corporation in Phoenix, Arizona. 5,267 miles away. So, we turned the invitation from the down. The Queen doesn’t take no for an answer, so the travel issue was solved when she requested the producers fly us on the Concorde. When returning to the US, we could be in Phoenix by noon for our show scheduled that evening because time was on our side, flying East to west. So our RSVP turned into a “yes” in the blink of an eye, and the next thing you know, I was flying to London to meet the Queen.
This wasn't our first time performing for Royalty. Previously, we had performed for King Charles, known then as Prince Charles, and also Prince Rainer and the rest of the Monarchy of Monaco in a show at The Princess Grace Theatre in Monte Carlo. The week before performing for the Queen, we performed at the Ford’s Theater in Washington DC for President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. So, I felt somewhat prepared for this ultimate royal experience. At the rehearsal, I met the other performers, including Marvin Hamlisch, Olivia Newton-John, Joe Pasquale, and Des O’Connor, to name a few. Like me, they anxiously awaited to meet the Queen that night. It surprised me, but it also gave me joy to notice other performers more famous than me nervously preparing for the show. Oddly, it boosted my confidence; I was in good company.
Backstage that morning and afternoon was a lot of hustle and bustle as everyone prepared for the evening. There was that same feeling I’ve felt on other sets where you feel like you need to hurry up and do nothing, mainly while other performers rehearse. But in this instant, our time was filled with a unique rehearsal. At one point, the show's director called us all together for a lesson in Royal protocol, where we learned to bow and curtsy when meeting Her Royal Highness. Someone important working for the Monarch was there to ensure we all followed the technical details that evening. The men were taught to bow, a simple nod of the head down and back up. For women, a curtsy requires you to place one foot behind the other with slightly bent knees while also bowing the head, Unlike the curtsy scene in movies where a woman holds her dress out and deeply bins her knees. Of course, it took no time to learn these simple movements, but I, like everyone else, was nervous I would not do it right when I met her and fumbled the execution of this simple maneuver. We also learned not to extend our hand to or talk to her unless she offered her hand and addressed us. Oh yes, before the show began and after the Queen was seated, we all shouted in unison, “Hip Hip, Hooray,” which I learned was a cheer of congratulations. What came to my mind when I realized we were required to toast to the Queen with this famous chant, visions of scenes from Alice and Wonderland came to my mind. I must say, when it came time for the cast to rally this cheer, it confirmed the feeling I had earlier of being in a fairytale.
Full show of 1995 Royal Variety Performance
The finale of the 1995 Royal Variety Performance. I am seeing here behind and to the right of Olivia Newton-John who is standing in the front wearing the black dress.
The Royal Social Director followed Jonathan and me to the rehearsal of our act. After watching our first practice session, she said in her delightful British “Queens English” accent the changes we needed for our performance to comply with Royal protocol. One rule is to never turn your back on the Queen. Of course, that’s a general rule of theater technique, but it is occasionally broken if it serves a theatrical purpose. This meant re-staging our act to eliminate those moves or change the moves so our backs were facing another direction from the audience's perspective. The Queen was seated in her booth on the audience stage right or left from a performer’s perspective, so these changes affected me the most, being many of my onstage movements were choreographed with my back turned to where the Queen sat. I changed those moves in question movements by simply changing the direction my back faced when turning around. It wasn't easy to alter because I wasn’t acclimated to doing my moves from the opposite side. It’s like trying to write with your other hand. My dance training came in handy, and it was relatively easy but scary because my new moves were not second nature, requiring me to think about them while I performed. That was a curve ball, but we all met the challenge and were happy with our evening performance. Just another day at the office for an entertainer. Lol!
Once practice was over for all the performers, we all came together to rehearse the show's finale, which followed the British singer Cliff Richards and Olivia Newton-John duo performance. We all joined them on stage to finish singing “That's What Friends Are For.” You can ask Randy, but I am not a talented singer. In the lineup for the finale, I was directed to stand next to Marvin Hamlisch and behind Olivia. Bear in mind I barely knew the words to the song, so I lip-synched most of it. It was an intoxicating experience pretending to sing while standing near Olivia Newton-John, who, during rehearsals, was very encouraging because she was best friends with one of our managers. Suppose those moments singing along with these talented singers had been my only experience that day that would have been enough excitement to write about. The director released us for makeup, hair, and an early meal before curtain. When you get ready for a show, time whizzes, and all you hear in your head as your adrenaline rushes is the tic-toc of a clock pushing you to the stage. Starting at 30 minutes, the stage manager calls out the curtain time to five minutes and finally, Showtime. At the five-minute mark, Jonathan and I had to be in our place ready to perform because we were the first to perform on the evening’s bill. I was ready extra early, so from a backstage monitor, I witnessed the Queen's entrance. Once the audience was seated, the Queen, along with Prince Phillip, made their grand entrance before being placed and stood as they were saluted with the song “God Save the Queen.”
I saw she was wearing a stunning blue ball gown, and as I watched her on the monitor, I was reminded that at the same time airing in America was Princess Diana’s famous interview with Oprah Winfrey. As I watched her, I wondered what was going through her mind. Was she thinking about Diana? I empathized with her by asking what stress she experienced in those moments. Royal biographer Andrew Morton revealed in his book, ‘The Queen: Her Life’ that Princess Diana’s interview was “shocking” and “unforgivable” to the royal family. “[The queen] was despairing, her husband apoplectic. Something had to be done for the sake of not just the monarchy but also their grandchildren," the biographer said.
My spell was broken by a stagehand guiding me to my opening position. A giant amount of adrenaline hit me like a drug. My heart began to race as I thought about the vital audience members waiting patiently in the theater for us to present ourselves on stage. To avoid stage fright, I imagine my favorite comedic scenes as comic relief to distract my mind from my anxiety. The adrenaline level comes down, and I’m calmer before I go on stage. This technique has always worked exceptionally well for me during pre-show stage jitters. Showtime! The music begins as I wait for the curtain, and the moment happens when, in the blink of an eye, like a phoenix, I magically appear from flames before Her Royal Highness and to the appreciative applause of the audience. This was followed by a surreal illusion where I appear after my shadow is seen traveling through a portal. At the end, I vanish in a pyramid of fire, reappearing seconds later in the middle of the audience. I was very content with my performance and proud of Jonathan’s delivery, who connected well with the audience. When your performance is over, the adrenaline leaves your body. It is seemingly replaced with another brain chemical, feeding you with a calming opioid and providing you with euphoric happiness. It’s almost a spiritual feeling. This is especially true when you enjoy a successful performance. We continued to relax, and I finally ate a few bites of food I hadn’t touched earlier because I was too nervous before the show. We changed into black-tie attire and readied ourselves for the show's end. The finale was the best I’d ever been in my performance days. Not even the rehearsal that day prepared me for the dreamy feeling I had singing next to these talented individuals. Then you realize it doesn’t end there because following the finale, we were escorted into a ballroom where royal photographs snapped our photos as we met the Queen. I stood with the other entertainers in a line, waiting for her to come my way. As I watched her approach me, I frantically tried to remember the protocol taught earlier in the day. I thought about the lessons for a few seconds, and it all came back to me instantly, so when I met Queen Elizabeth ll, I performed, I hope, a perfect curtsy as she extended her glove hand to me. She looked at me and wanted to know my whereabouts. I told her Las Vegas, and she said a few niceties and moved on to the next entertainer standing to my left. The week prior, we had performed for President Bill Clinton and met him at the White House for cocktails and dinner. The lesson we learned when being photographed with him, and Hillary is you can’t look as surprised as when you meet an essential dignitary or royalty because the photographer will capture the shock as you shake hands with the dignitary. Jonathan didn’t like his photograph for this reason. So, after curtsying, I looked at the Queen with a grateful smile. The night wasn’t over as we left for a black tie dinner with the Queen at the Ritz. I had never entered a more beautiful dining room. Elaborately decorated Louis VXl style with soaring marble columns, giant chandeliers with dazzling brilliance, and neoclassic statues. Everyone present dressed to match this royal event. I can’t recall my meal, but I remember it was delicious and served with theater and flair. I was hoping not to spill food on my dress. Later, I spotted the Queen whose back was turned to me and took notice of the wrinkles caused by sitting for so long. I realized that not even the Queen is perfect, and the image recalled my earlier thoughts of Princess Diana pouring out her heart to Americans. I hoped the Queen would sleep well as we left for our hotel. Leaving my dream state from that day’s events behind, I fell into a deep sleep in a nanosecond.
I boarded the Concorde Flight 4590 in Paris following a short trip on a shuttle from London to Paris. We left for New York early in the morning and arrived in New York 3 1/2 hours later at about 7 a.m. Every passenger deplaning seemed to be high-end business people who regularly took this flight because none seemed impressed by the jet reaching Mach 2. We, being newbies flying on the Concorde, were as giddy as adolescents, but I curb my excitement so as not to expose being a rookie. Peering out the window, I was disappointed not to see the earth's curve as promised. However, it was impressive to view the expanding earth below me as we traveled at supersonic speeds, reaching JFK International Airport. We were the only ones disembarking the flight left to wait for another flight, and we did until about 11:00 AM EST when we boarded a flight on American West Airlines bound for Phoenix. Compared to the Concorde, the American West flight was slow and clunky. Lol. We made it to Phoenix in time to prepare for the evening show. I don’t think I had slept more than about four hours. But the adrenaline running through my body resulting from the excitement from the last few days propelled me forward, so my tiredness faded. Following that show, I slept for 15 hours, listening to the final invigorating last moments of autumn whisper past my window. I woke up the next day at about 3:00 PM, believing my reality was a dream.
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