I’m guessing I’m not the only person out there who harbors secret desires to save the day onstage.
The narrative usually goes something like this: I’m sitting in a darkened theater, waiting for the performance of “West Side Story” or “Hamilton” to begin. Suddenly a voice comes over the loudspeakers, asking if there is anyone in the house who happens to know all the lyrics of “America” or “The World Turned Upside Down.” I glance around me modestly, sure that there is someone more suitable than I in the audience, but it appears that no, incredibly, no one else happens to know the words to these musical favorites.
I sense my fellow theatergoers gazing at me expectantly, as if emblazoned on my forehead are the words “I am not throwing away my shot!” I leap from my seat, then seize control of myself, walk nonchalantly to the stage, and then proceed to dazzle the audience with a performance I am wholly unqualified to deliver.
For me, this is a dream. But for real performers, these types of situations are all in a day’s work. Take Wayne Mendro for example. A couple of weeks ago, Wayne was at home, looking forward to attending a birthday dinner for his grandson, Willie.
At 4 p.m., Wayne received a call from The Paperboys, a Canadian folk music band that was performing at the Winthrop Barn that evening. “Our saxophone player is unable to make it to tonight’s show,” The Paperboys told Wayne. “We asked around a bit, and we heard that you’re the person who can help us out.”
By 5 p.m., Wayne was at the Barn, learning The Paperboys’ music by ear and warming up with them. At 6 p.m., copies of sheet music for the saxophone parts were finally procured for Wayne, and at 7 p.m. he walked onstage with the band.
As a last-minute fill-in for an established member of a band that is nearly 30 years old, Wayne would be, I assumed, just be playing some low-key parts, providing the essential background sound of a saxophone. This assumption, however, was quickly dispelled, once the show began. A couple of songs into the first set, the lead singer put his microphone in its stand and all of the band members turned to Wayne, lowering the volume of their own instruments. Wayne proceeded not to fade into to the background, but instead to belt out a long and seemingly complicated solo, completely nailing it. The audience went wild. Wayne just grinned and kept on playing. This scenario was repeated several times throughout the night, impressive solos one right after the other.
For Wayne, performing with The Paperboys didn’t seem to be about saving the day; it was simply about solving a problem. Someone needed something, Wayne had the ability to answer their need, and so — in typical Mendro fashion — he did.