Friday, November 20, 2009

The Destiny of Destry Dancer: Rachelle Reyes

"You make me fall in love with these shows again."

Sometimes you, our faithful Moon audience, are the ones with the fascinating life stories to share, and last week at our final performance of Destry Rides Again, the above words were uttered by a very special audience member: Rachelle Reyes.

(Rachelle Reyes at Moonspace)

Rachelle was born and raised right here in San Francisco, and she still calls S.F. home!  She’s a proud subscriber to 42nd Street Moon and knows from good performances: she was a professional dancer for many years.
In 1939, at age 7, she was already hoofin’ it with the Anderson Sisters dancing at the Treasure Island World’s Fair.  In high school (at Lowell) she began dancing with the San Francisco Opera Ballet under the Christiansons

(Rachelle in a Promo shot for the Mason-Kahn Dancers)

Later she joined the Mason-Kahn Dancers where she met everyone from Ricky Nelson to Johnny Cash.
She told me Cash tried to steal a cab from her in Hawaii where she was performing in the celebration of their Statehood.
I saw him as I was walking to the cab from one stage entrance and he from another.  We smiled at each other and both walked toward the cab just a little bit faster, and smiled a little more, and walked a little bit faster.  We both got there at the same time and I said to him, ‘Excuse me Mr. Cash, I ordered this cab,’ and he said to me, ‘I’ll make you a deal, we’ll drop you off first, and then I’ll pay for the fare.’  Well that worked for me!

She even entertained the inmates at San Quentin, for which she received a lovely note from the Warden which read in part “You’ll always be welcomed warmly at San Quentin.” Rachelle has always wondered, “who wants to be welcomed at San Quentin?” Good question!
Though she was classically trained, she danced in many stage shows, and national tours, from Show Boat with Ruta Lee (pictured with Rachelle on the right) in Los Angeles, to Balanchine’s The Merry Widow.  And, of course, she danced in the national tour of Michael Kidd's Destry Rides Again.
I asked her which was “harder” - Balanchine or Michael Kidd?
Kidd’s choreography is much more athletic.  What we did was much more demanding athletically.  They even had to take Extraordinary Risk insurance out on us because of Kidd’s Choreography, but it was also more exciting!

When it comes to embarrassing stories about the Destry tour, she didn’t have many, but one was a doozy.
The night we closed in Toronto, during the Whip dance my costume got caught on a nail and all this fabric started unraveling, but I was dancing with a partner, I couldn’t just stop.  So it continued to unravel and there was all this fabric on stage!  The other performers who were on the balcony where laughing because I wouldn’t stop dancing.  They were just howling with laughter.  Finally, the Stage Manager’s wife ran down, grabbed all the fabric and just stuffed it in my bloomers! And off I went to finish the coda of that dance…

 (Rachelle in various poses for Destry Rides Again)

Rachelle told me some more wonderful stories, but I only have room for a few:

During Show Boat - she played La Belle Fatima (Left) - there was a moment when most of the actors on stage were facing Rachelle, and away from the audience.  Every night, the actors would try as hard as they could to get Rachelle to break character.  Rachelle would literally bit her lip to keep from cracking up, “I had the bloodiest lip."
Actors!  A vicious bunch I tell you!
She also told me about a time when a man came up to her and said, “Excuse me, my wife would like to meet you.”  She had no idea who it was, but it was Margaret Keane’s husband.  They told her she was the only woman they had ever met that looked like one of the Keane Girls.  Margaret never painted Rachelle, but they did take a picture together, a promotional picture and they had a wonderful time seeing Florence Henderson in The Sound of Music.

(Two looks for Rachelle)

Rachelle last performance was a Television Special in which she danced with Bing Crosby. After that she put up her tap/toe shoes and became a teacher here in San Francisco.  
With all the amazing people Rachelle has met, and all the wonderful stories she has, the thing that struck me most about her was how humble she was.  She never mentioned someone to show off, it was always so matter of fact and she truly didn’t seem to realize how fascinating and interesting her stories were. 
Rachelle, it was sincerely my pleasure talking with you and I look forward to many more conversations in the future.  Thank you for being a Moonie and supporting us!

Next up at 42nd Street Moon... Jubilee. Begins previews on November 25.  For tickets, click here.

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