When I walked into the Redford Theatre on Friday, September 13, 2013, the first thing I did was try to get a glimpse of that weekend’s special guest, Shirley Jones.
The front lobby of the recently renovated Redford buzzed with excitement. I worked my way through the crowd, alive with curiosity, trying to spot the guest of honor through the forest of patrons that filled the lobby.
And there she was, in real life, sitting at a table on the right side of the front lobby, greeting each person in the long line of autograph seekers that stretched into the concession lobby.
Her appearance had been heavily promoted and highly anticipated, and it gave me a rush of pleasant excitement to see her actually in our midst, not on a television or movie screen.
That was the beginning of a personally rewarding evening for myself and hundreds of other Redford visitors.
Shirley later appeared on stage before the movie and during the intermission. She came across in the same friendly and down-to-earth manner that helped make her famous in the television series The Partridge Family and the movies Oklahoma!, Carousel, and that weekend’s Redford movie, The Music Man.
A Musical Night
Adding to the fun of the evening were two special musical treats, along with another dynamic performance by Redford organist Tony O’Brien.
The Livonia Youth Symphony Orchestras of Michigan warmed up the theater audience by taking the Redford stage to play selections from The Music Man. They later played the show’s most famous tune, “Seventy Six Trombones,” as Shirley walked from the lobby to the auditorium stage to introduce the movie.
Also performing was a strolling barbershop quartet similar to the Buffalo Bills quartet in The Music Man. The quartet greeted visitors in the front lobby before the movie, and afterwards, sang from the aisle way behind the balcony to departing filmgoers in the concession lobby.
The delightful music that seemed to echo from every corner of the Redford set the perfect tone for Shirley’s entrance onstage, where she was greeted with a powerful round of applause. Her dark pantsuit gave her an understated elegance that generated friendly admiration throughout the theater.
Before the movie and during the intermission, Shirley answered questions from Ed Hoffman, host of the “Speaking of Art” program on radio station WAAM. Ed’s relaxed and friendly professionalism added to the graceful warmth of the evening.
Shirley talked about many of her experiences in show business. She revealed that she was pregnant during the famous bridge scene with Robert Preston towards the end of The Music Man when she sings “‘Til There was You,” my favorite scene in the film.
When she and Preston embraced on the bridge, the baby kicked, causing Preston to jump away in surprise. Many years later, the result of that pregnancy, Patrick Cassidy, greeted Robert Preston at a benefit where they were both appearing. “We’ve already met!” exclaimed Preston.
Shirley fondly recalled working with young Ronnie Howard on the The Music Man. She jokingly described him now as a “big director who won’t give me a job,” drawing strong laughter from the Redford audience.
Shirley noted that she was originally offered the television role of the mother on The Brady Brunch, but she didn’t want to be another TV mother pulling food out of the oven. The Partridge Family appealed to her because of the music and her chance to portray a working mother.
Watching her younger self on the screen often makes her “tear up,” Shirley poignantly noted. The night was special for the hundreds of Redford fans, but Shirley made you feel it also was special for her. She praised the beauty of the theater, and blew a kiss to the crowd when she exited the stage after the intermission, when she helped pull tickets for the 50-50 raffle.
Like other personal appearances that the Redford has recently hosted, the background comments by a star of a film gave more depth and feeling to the viewing of the movie. That came to a climax during the final credits of the The Music Man, when all of the main characters re-appear during the “Seventy Six Trombones” parade.
The Redford crowd clapped loudly in unison with the song, and when Shirley Jones appeared, with her name in big letters, the theater exploded with applause that seemed to put an exclamation point on the evening.
Detroit area audiences first enjoyed The Music Man on July 20, 1962 when it opened at the old Michigan Theater at Bagley and Grand River.
It opened in Ann Arbor a week later at the still-open Michigan Theater on Liberty Street.
The Music Man played in downtown Detroit for two months before moving out into the neighborhoods and suburbs. That second run included the grand opening of the now-closed Terrace on Plymouth Road in Livonia.
As I soaked in the vibrant atmosphere of the Redford on that lucky Friday the 13th, I saw Redford publicity chairperson Linda Sites, who was given special recognition from the stage for her efforts in bringing Shirley Jones to the Redford for shows on September 13, 14, and 15.
I greeted Linda by saying, “Good job.” She replied, “Doesn’t she look good? Nice lady.”
I’m sure hundreds of Redford fans left the theater that weekend thinking and saying the same things.
Copyright © 2013 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.