Artistically speaking, thank goodness for Molly

  • Dancers from the Concord Dance Academy perform in “Molly B – The Musical” at the Capitol Center for the Arts on Monday night in memory of 13-year-old Molly Banzhoff. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Molly B - The Musical at the CCA Monday night GEOFF FORESTER

Published: 5/25/2016 12:09:11 AM

To educators who view the arts with budget-cutting eyes, I hope you saw Monday’s show at the Capitol Center for the Arts.

There, following the death of 13-year-old Molly Banzhoff from an undetected brain tumor, we saw what the arts can do for a community.

The arts worked as well as any Friday night football game ever could in rehabilitating a grieving crowd. Perhaps better.

People were smiling, dancing, singing, laughing. People were energized, telling stories, playing piano, playing guitar.

This was a tribute, a true reflection of a life lived, never before seen by these eyes. “Molly B – The Musical,” the words formed with pink lights on the Center’s marquee on South Main Street, did not merely tell us who Molly was and what she meant to others.

It showed us.

Show, don’t tell. That’s the No. 1 rule in good writing and good journalism, former Monitor editor Mike Pride once said (over and over). And it’s a damn good way to honor someone we’ve lost.

And from what I learned during and after the show, we lost a lot when Molly died on May 7. We lost a dancer and a singer, a brilliant thinker and an independent soul, a girl totally comfortable in her own skin, and totally comfortable with you in your own skin.

And, more than anything else, we lost a seventh-grader at Rundlett Middle School who lived her life with a purpose: to make everyone she met feel better.

And it worked, because somehow, by some miracle, a theater full of people celebrated Monday, following the saddest news imaginable.

How else to explain what went on at the Capitol Center? How else to make sense of so many people, on stage and in the audience, harnessing their sadness for more than an hour?

How else to wrap your mind around the fact that a bunch of people rehearsed, choreographed and advertised an event, less than three weeks after Molly had died?

I never met Molly, but it was obvious she was the fuel that drove everyone involved, symbolically serving as the director, the producer and the public relations director, all rolled into one.

I wondered if this was a good idea as soon as I sat down, up in the balcony. I’ve known Barb Higgins, Molly’s mother, for 25 years. I wrote about her when I was the sports columnist here, when she was a nationally-known college distance runner, hoping to make our Olympic team.

She’s hilarious and really intelligent, but I feared her impetuous nature might have led her down the wrong path here. Maybe she was reaching for something that was inappropriate. Maybe she and her family, Molly’s sister Gracie Banzhoff and the girls’ father Kenny Banzhoff, pictured this grand event without having thought it through completely.

With the wounds of sorrow still wide open, I worried this might be a flop, a forced form of entertainment without the zest and true vitality needed to motivate the cast and please the crowd.

Man, was I wrong.

These were children and adults, all part of Molly’s past, who sang from the heart. They were members and instructors from places called the Concord Dance Academy and Flipz Gymnastics, local institutions that shaped who Molly was.

And, in turn, they were shaped themselves by Molly’s presence.

No one who attended, of course, forgot their pain. Sniffling could be heard during a pair of screen presentations, still shots and film clips of baby Molly and little Molly and teen Molly. We saw Molly making funny faces with friends, and growing older with Gracie, each holding a card through the years to show their changing ages.

It was heartbreaking, for sure.

But no one forgot they were at a show, either. And if you wanted to witness Higgins at a loss for words and refusing to meet a challenge head-on, forget it.

In fact, Higgins, Kenny and Gracie appeared near the left corner of the stage following the initial song-and-dance routine. They stood tall, bold and brave, never cracking under the weight of hardship, never showing us the true nature of their sorrow.

Higgins, in fact, gave a speech and sprinkled it with humor.

And Gracie?

She stole the show, living up to her name, tapping her way into our lives, fighting through her pain to perform.

For Molly.

Look at our front page from Tuesday, at the photo taken by Photo Editor Geoff Forester. Look at the figure in the middle, hands out to the side, pink flower pinned to her pinstriped vest, blinding us with her smile.

That’s Gracie.

In fact, look at everyone else in that photo, their smiles, their hands and arms, their overall body language.

Where’s the unhappiness? Where’s the agony?

We know it was there. Of course it was there.

But with Molly serving as the inspiration, the show had to go on, and it did. Only when it had ended did I grow sad, and not solely because I had more time to think about who Barb and Kenny and Gracie had lost.

I wanted more, an encore, another set, more dancing, another tune. Then I realized that this is a long-running show, always on stage, when ever the curtain goes up in Concord.

Molly is part of the city’s cast, for all time.

Long live the arts.

And long live Molly, too.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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