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It's the People

February 1, 2012 - Phyllis Sigal
I love my job.

I get to take blank pages, and fill them up — either with words, when I write stories, or with design, when I paginate pages for our newspaper. Creativity is a beautiful thing.

Every day is different; every week is different; every month is different; it all depends upon what projects, what stories, what special sections are on tap.

But in my almost 32 years of newspaper work, the best, best, BEST part of my job has been the people I've met doing interviews.

I've had the pleasure to talk with so many different people over the years. I've met many local people who've done interesting things. There have been some where the interview has led to a lasting friendship. I remember doing a story on a new bead shop in Center Wheeling back around 1994, The Banyan Tree. Its proprietor, Kathy Malcarney Baier, who has since moved away to New Jersey, is one of my best friends.

I'm proud to say I've interviewed a couple of people from the Ohio Valley — several times — who are performing on Broadway — Ashley Yeater in "Follies" and Aaron Galligan-Stierle in "Phantom of the Opera." In fact, Ashley started out as a swimsuit model for my fashion pages when she was just a teen.

I had a lovely interview with 11-year-old Ryan Lenkey (and his mom Dawn); Ryan, who had a couple of callbacks for "Billy Elliot the Musical," wants to be on Broadway.

I've met many great marketing people, innkeepers and restauranteurs in the course of my travel stories.

I've spoken to many celebrities — George Carlin, Arlo Guthrie, John Oates, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kenny Loggins, to name a few. George Carlin was a little miffed during our interview because "his people" hadn't supplied me with basic bio information. John Oates didn't take too kindly to my description of Connecticut, where he lived, as a "suburb of New York City."

But of course, there have been successful interactions.

Kenny Loggins once sang to me over the phone (I was swooning!) the new verse he had just added to "House at Pooh Corner." We both had 5-year-old daughters at the time; I had to cut our conversation short to pick Amanda up at day care. His daughter, Isabella, had just entered the room wearing her clothes "upside down," he told me. When I got to meet him after the concert a couple of weeks later, he showed me the picture of her with her "upside-down ensemble."

And my latest interview brought yet another memorable experience.

I was interviewing Leah Hocking, who plays Mrs. Wilkinson, the ballet teacher, in "Billy Elliot the Musical," which is playing at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, now through Feb. 12.

We spoke about her career, life on Broadway and on the road, and the show itself.

I was to keep the interview to 20 minutes, according to the tour associate who set up the interview.

But we just kept talking and talking and talking ... and it turned out she has local connections —her brother-in-law is John L’Ecuyer, music director at the Vineyard Church in Wheeling. And her dad grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio. Small world.

Our dialogue continued in a few emails, so that I could get a few more bits of information. My story ran in last week's TGIF; she was complimentary of me capturing her "voice" in the quotes I used.

I've been wanting to see the show for years, and finally got to see its opening night performance in Pittsburgh.

Leah was incredible. ("Billy Elliot the Musical" Broadway production was her ninth show on Broadway in about 19 years. This is her first tour.)

She is funny, has a terrific voice and moves well. And what a great, multi-dimensional character she gets to play. (She's doing what "she was born to do," her brother-in-law told me. And it sure looked like that to me!)

The show was wonderful — the boy who played Billy Elliot was amazing. There was lots of talent, as well as lots of tears and lots of laughs. And the final act, well it is just "tutu" funny.

At the close of our telephone interview, she had mentioned it would be nice to meet, so I high-tailed it to the stage door after the performance.

When she came out of the door, she looked over at me, and said, "Phyllis?"

And we hugged. We chatted and chatted, and then she mentioned to my husband Bruce and daughter Amanda that "obviously there was a connection."

One of the best parts of touring, she noted, was making connections like that across the country.

And one more connection for me.

One more reason why I love my job.

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