Lion February 2014 : Page 40

Show Must Go On, and On and On and On Revue packs them in for 71 years and brings life–literally–to an Ohio city. by Anne Ford Funerals, of course, are solemn occasions. So when mourners arrive for visitations at the Massillon, Ohio funeral home where Lion Glen Dumoulin works, they wait a few respectful minutes before surreptitiously asking him, “You going to be in the show this year?” The crooning Harmonairres sang the hits of the day in the 1949 show of the Massillon Lions Club in Ohio.

The Show Goes On

Anne Ford

Revue packs them in for 71 years and brings life–literally–to an Ohio city.

Funerals, of course, are solemn occasions. So when mourners arrive for visitations at the Massillon, Ohio funeral home where Lion Glen Dumoulin works, they wait a few respectful minutes before surreptitiously asking him, “You going to be in the show this year?”

Such is the appeal of the massive, rollicking musical revue that the Massillon Lions Club has put on annually for 71 years. For all those decades, the show has consistently drawn sellout crowds who come from miles around every March to watch the Lions sing, dance and crack jokes, usually while wearing less-than-dignified apparel, over the show’s six-night run.

To give you an approximate idea of the goofiness level involved: Last year’s version, “Don’t Stop the Music,” featured a zillionaire who hires scientists to help him visit 1960s England to prevent the British Invasion. A malfunctioning time machine, a leprechaun, cross-dressing go-go dancers and several Beefeater costumes were thrown into the mix.

“We’ve dressed the guys like raisins, and we’ve dressed ‘em like clowns,” says Lion Rudy Turkal, who’s been involved with the show for 49 years, 33 of them as director. “They’ve been rubber duckies. They’ve been break dancers. They’ve been ballerinas. We’re a service club, and what a way to do service—sing and dance and make a fool out of yourself.”

But the show brings much more to the community, and to the Lions themselves, than just a few nights of laughter. Through ticket sales and program ads, the show raises about $30,000 annually for sight screenings at local schools, eyeglasses for the needy, guide dogs for the blind and the like.

Then there are the innumerable non-monetary benefits, not the least of which is the camaraderie the show instills among the Lions. While some clubs have difficulty attracting and retaining new Lions, particularly among the younger crowd, the Massillon Lions include members in their 20s, 80s and every decade in between. And all of them are expected to participate, if not as performers in the show’s skits and musical numbers, then as ticket-sellers, ticket-takers, ushers or set-builders.

Massillon is a small city of 32,000 in eastern Ohio 50 miles south of Cleveland. Lions begin working on their show the first Sunday after New Year’s Day and continue until opening night in mid-March. “All these guys give up three months of their lives,” says Lion Bob Russell, the current director. “Every Tuesday night and Sunday afternoon, the whole crew is in there rehearsing for the show.”

It’s that rigorous commitment that Dumoulin credits with keeping the Massillon Lions so vigorous. “Many service organizations have declining membership or have disbanded, but ours is the strongest. I know it’s because we have our own show,” he says. “Every member of the club is part of it in one way or another. We have a common sense of purpose.”

As Turkal puts it: “The show is the glue that holds us together.”

To get a grasp of just how long the Massillon Lions’ show has been going on, consider that the same year the first one kicked off in 1943 Duke Ellington played in Carnegie Hall, a new musical called “Oklahoma!” opened on Broadway and a young American serviceman named John F. Kennedy rescued himself and his crew after their PT boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer.

Despite the deprivations of World War II (still two years away from ending), the Lions’ first show raised $1,500— the equivalent of $20,000 today. With success like that, small wonder that the club decided to continue it on an annual basis. In the following years, the show, held at the local high school, was so popular that audiences started lining up for tickets at 4:30 in the morning, according to an account compiled by local historian Margy Vogt.

One vital early member of the crew was Paul “Pop” Ringley Sr., the grandfather of current Lion Tim Ringley. “My first show was in 1958, when I was four years old,” Tim Ringley says. “My brother and I did a song called ‘Side by Side.’ My dad, Paul ‘Junie’ Ringley Jr., was the musical director, and my grandfather’s job was to pull the curtain.” Ringley is now one of only a few remaining third-generation Massillon Lions.

Another early participant was Turkal, who joined the fun in 1964 in hopes of meeting some of the young local women whom the Lions recruited as dancers. It worked: He married one of them. Though the marriage didn’t last, his commitment to the show did. Perhaps his biggest mark on it came in 1976, when, upon becoming director, he insisted on one major addition—scenery.

“Originally, our stage consisted of a green curtain behind us, with maybe a cardboard sign,” recalls Turkal. “When I became director, the show’s theme was ‘River Boat,’ and we built a boat on stage. I remember the smokestack was a carpet roll we painted black. I put a bunch of white thumbtacks in it to make it look like boiler plate. My thumbs were bleeding by the time I got done, but it looked great.”

In 1982, the Massillon Lions purchased and renovated the local Lincoln Theatre, an old movie playhouse that had fallen into disrepair. It’s been the show’s (and the club’s) home ever since. Located on Massillon’s main street, sporting an old-time marquee and hosting various forms of live entertainment year-round, the theatre is one more sign of the Lions’ commitment to the community.

These days, there’s no more smoking or poker games backstage before shows, Turkal has turned the director’s chair over to Russell and ticket sales are down slightly. That’s a result, the Lions agree, of big chain stores buying up the small shops that once were some of the club’s biggest supporters and ticket-sellers.

But the theater still fills up with nearly 500 people a night, the audience still laughs and Lions who perform are still routinely recognized and complimented on the street. “People come up to you and say, ‘We love the show,’” Dumoulin says. “And then some of them add, ‘When my kids were little, the Lions club helped them out with glasses.’”

Lion Shaun Doherty, 34, grew up attending the show and began performing in it seven years ago, first in the chorus and then in the highly coveted role of “end man,” telling jokes and stories between musical acts. One of his favorite aspects of the show is the way that it encourages everyone to join the fun, regardless of talent or infirmity. “It gives some of the older Lions who might not be able to do much physically the chance to still participate,” he points out.

And then there are the performers who, in other clubs or communities, might be excluded or overlooked entirely, not just from the show, but from day-to-day life. “We’ve had a couple guys who were developmentally slow,” Turkal remembers, including a man he befriended through a local church. “I said, ‘Jeff, come on in. We’re going to make you a star.’ He’d learn all the songs before everybody else, and he’d say, ‘Rudy, somebody saw me on the street, and they knew who I was!’”

Then, too, the show keeps the club itself strong by encouraging attendance. “If you want to be in the show, you have to come to the meetings, because practice follows the meetings,” Dumoulin points out. The show is so popular that some Lions have joined the club just to have the chance to perform. It helps that during each show the director talks about Lions and its goals. “So it’s not just a show; it’s an educational tool as well,” he adds.

The revue also is famous for its role in the city’s social life: innumerable marriages, babies, jobs and friendships have come about as a result of the show. Turkal not only met his first wife through it; he also met his second (she was a friend of one of the other performers). And in the early ‘90s, Ringley discovered that that year’s show lineup included a tall, striking female singer. “I told a guy backstage that one of these days that lady’s going to be my wife,” he says. “He thought I was nuts. Well, in 1999, I married that woman, and she’s been in the show many times. It’s a wonderful thing when you can share something like that with someone you love.”

Some Lions have found, too, that performing in the show affects their lives in even more unexpected ways. Turkal remembers casting a shy, mild-mannered man in several of the show’s skits over the years. “He comes up to me a couple years ago and says, ‘Rudy, I just want to thank you. All those skits you put me in, it gave me so much confidence and self-assurance,’” Turkal says. “It helped him in his personal life; it made him speak up at work. That made me cry then, and now too. It helped this guy’s life, and how many more that we don’t know about?”

“The show’s not going to last forever,” he finishes. “But they might have said that 50 years ago, too.”

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