I had a hard time deciding what to do last weekend, but not because I didn’t have options. Music, food, dogs--you name it, I hadn't done it. I was looking for something a little less mainstream, however…and maybe even air-conditioned. Lucky for me, I saw an ad for Rockin’ with Rockwell, a Huntington’s Disease benefit featuring Elvis impersonator George Gray and living representations of Norman Rockwell’s art. The King and Norman Rockwell? That's a big ol' slice of Americana right there.
First of all, let me confess my ignorance about Huntington’s Disease. I knew it was in some way neurological, but I wasn't clear on the details. According to the HD Society of America, Rocky Mountain Chapter, the disease is a “devastating, hereditary degenerative brain disorder” for which there is “currently no treatment or cure.” A quarter of a million people in the US either have HD or are at risk of inheriting it. It often manifests in adulthood, sometimes years after it has already been passed down to the next generation. If you are fortunate enough not to have this affliction lurking in your gene pool, be very grateful. I know I am.
I attended the matinee performance at CSU’s Lory Theater, a dark and cool respite from the Saturday afternoon heat. The stage was almost bare, with two rocking chairs off to the right. Hmmm…I wasn’t quite expecting that kind of “rockin.’” But then the show kicked off with Elvis, clad in black leather. He sang his way through the audience, kissing some of the ladies’ hands and handing out scarves in true Elvis fashion. Alas, I didn’t get one. (For the record, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but he was a strange and fascinating man.)
Throughout the show, an ongoing interview of Norman Rockwell by Edward R. Murrow (Mike Lummie and Jim Paselk, seated in the rocking chairs) provided the context for the amazing living replications of Mr. Rockwell’s paintings--and the songs, dances, and TV jingles of the era. (And more Elvis!) I don’t know if the actors were reprising their roles as Rockwell and Murrow, but they did a great job. The script, written by Terri Mead, was nostalgic without being sappy, and I learned a lot about Norman Rockwell, his art, and the cultural framework of the time.
As a child of the second-half of the 1960s, my memory lane dead-ends at about 1972, but it’s hard to grow up in this culture without at least a small fondness for the 1950s. Those were the Happy Days, right? And even grade-schoolers know about sock hops and poodle skirts. Rockin’ with Rockwell was charming and fun, and the talented cast and crew—numbering about sixty, many of them kids—were obviously very dedicated to their cause. I left the show hoping their evening performance would be a sell-out.
This was the fifth annual event. Keep an eye out for it next year.
Yours truly and George "Elvis" Gray