By Sue Moore
Spectacular props are the norm in all the Showboat performances, dating back to at least the time when Lloyd Appell, MD, started making them in his cozy basement workshop.
The 62nd annual Showboat stage will feature the set for WVIX, the television station that wants to produce a telethon to raise money. They intend to remodel the old Simpson Paper company mill in Vicksburg that has been idle since 2001 for their sound stage on February 27, 28 and the matinee on March 1.
A mysterious investor paid for the crew to turn the mill into a television studio, and when the crew finds themselves short of cash, they start a telethon to come up with the rest. They need props of course, which have been developed from the ingenious mind of Appell with a little help from the script committee. He also has assistance from Jim Bird, who chairs the prop committee for the Rotary Club. The club has been the show’s sponsor since its inception in 1953.
Each Showboat performance usually consists of the great old songs, sung by a male chorus, and the glue that holds the show together, comedy. This takes props — lots of them.
The first big prop that Appell constructed in his basement he vividly recalls. He carefully built a chandelier for a castle that was the center of the Storybook theme in 1988. When the stage crew came to pick it up, they were stymied because it was too big to fit through the basement doorway of 29 inches. Now what? They dismantled the candle lights from each side and finally inched the monster sized prop up the steps, Appell recalls. This is the same chandelier that during rehearsal, fell on Norm Schippers head, not intentionally. The next week Norm wore a hard hat to rehearsal as did others in the cast, just to make the point.
It soon became clear that props needed to be built in pieces and reassembled on stage at the Performing Arts Center.
“I love the Showboat,” Appell says. “I’ve been working in it for 42 years, either singing in the chorus, being the show director, making props, and yes, doing the newspaper jokes in front of the curtain with the best ones we can find that are still presentable.”
He and partner, Warren Lawrence, take their place in front of the curtain, usually while set changes are going on behind them. They both come up with safe jokes and jot them down throughout the year, then exchange them. Those they both think are funny, are accepted and then Appell pulls the presentation together for show time. They deliver them with great panache, making the audience see the humor just by their presentation alone, according to Ken Franklin, the show’s director since 2007.
When the show is over, it’s hard to find a storage space for the largest props, so they are usually broken up for salvage lumber. That started after the Humpty Dumpty year when Appell had constructed a huge egg, and the Rotarians returned it to his front yard on Sunday morning.
They thought he might have a use for it in an Easter egg hunt.