At Molly Banzhoff’s final show, audience members reminded to ‘keep on dancing through life’

  • Molly Banzhoff, 13, had her final show in one of her favorite places in Concord. The marquis at Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts glowed pink on Monday: ‘Molly B – the Musical.’ GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Kenny Banzhoff and his wife, Barb Higgins, reflect on the life of their daughter Molly last Friday on their porch. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Gracie Banzhoff (center) performs with the rest of the Concord Dance Academy dancers in the opening number to “Molly B – The Musical” at the Capitol Center for the Arts on Monday night. BELOW: The marquee lights up in large pink letters. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Molly B - The Musical at the CCA Monday night. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

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

  • Gracie Banzhoff, left, and her parents Kenny and Barb introduce the show last night at the CCA. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/24/2016 12:24:37 AM

Molly Banzhoff had her final show on Monday night at the Capitol Center for the Arts – one of her favorite places in Concord.

As the sun set, the theater marquee lit up in large pink letters saying “Molly B – The Musical.” Inside the rose-colored theater, Molly’s older sister, Gracie, and dozens of her classmates and friends sang and danced their way through performances to honor the 13-year-old Rundlett Middle School student who died from an undetected brain tumor earlier this month.

Soon after her death, Molly’s family decided a show would be the best way to pay tribute to a girl who loved performing and was on stage since age 3.

By the estimation of Molly’s mother, Barb Higgins, Molly had been in Capitol Center for the Arts 900,000 times for rehearsals, performances and recitals.

“I’d brought Molly there for one of her many rehearsals in the last year at some point, and we sat down,” Higgins remembered. “Molly looked at me and she goes, ‘Mom, I love this place. I love it backstage, I love the dressing rooms, I love performing, I love watching. I just love it here.’ ”

Molly was meant to perform in her summer Concord Dance Academy recital at the venue in a little over a week, and her dance classmates performed two musical numbers Monday in her honor, leaving an empty space where she would have stood.

Late last week, Higgins sat at her kitchen table, combing through hundreds of photos of Molly for the show.

There were many pictures of huge smiles and sparkly dance outfits from recitals, but one picture Higgins paused on was slightly grainy, taken from far away. In it, Molly is lounging on a plastic float in the family’s inflatable pool, lovingly dubbed the “ghetto pool” by the family.

In the photo, Molly’s arm is in front of her face and Gracie is leaning on top of her. Higgins remembers the moment clearly: her girls chatting and laughing, enjoying the cool water in the middle of a hot summer day.

“They stayed in that position for an hour,” Higgins said, wiping away tears. “I can’t find pictures that aren’t the two of them.”

These are the moments that Higgins misses the most: her girls dressing up as waitresses and serving her a Mothers Day meal, standing on stage together in sparkly matching recital outfits, or simply cuddling up together on the couch, watching their favorite show, Friends, on an iPad.

From an early age, the two girls were inseparable.

“We have these pictures of them, their first year dancing together, and they’re on each other like puppies. One of their teachers would say, ‘Hands off, Banzhoff.’ Because they couldn’t keep their hands off each other, ever, at all.”

Though they were two years apart, Molly and Gracie were nicknamed “the Banzhoff twins” by one of their dance teachers, and the name stuck.

“They loved it, that was their identity,” Higgins said.

Gracie, 15, said she misses having Molly by her side.

“Just being with her, we just talked, we’d laugh,” she said. “Dancing with her, swimming with her in the ghetto pool. Everything about her is my favorite.”

Gracie’s first time back on stage without her sister was “really hard,” but her friends at the dance school have been a huge help in days since Molly died, just by sitting with her and “being there.”

“It’s been so important,” Gracie said. “I’m so lonely.”

Just recently, she came back to the Concord Dance Academy classes she used to take with her sister.

“I can’t just stop. Molly wouldn’t want me to stop,” she said. “Dance is a great way to express how you’re feeling.”

Higgins and her husband, Kenny Banzhoff, initially weren’t planning to have two kids. It was a second marriage for both, and Kenny already had older children. But after Gracie was born, Higgins decided there was room for one more.

“It was evident to me early on that she needs someone to wait for Santa with, her partner in crime,” Higgins said. “She needs someone her age.”

Two years later, Molly was born.

“It was perfect,” Kenny Banzhoff said.

Gracie was able to keep her sister grounded, as Molly often had a flair for the dramatic, her parents remembered.

Molly was the more precocious of the two, “an old soul,” Higgins and Banzhoff said. When she was in the hospital and classmates came to see her, they told of how, without a second thought, she would reach out to kids in school who needed a friend.

“Molly just knew,” Higgins said. “I think she could look at somebody and see their suffering even if it wasn’t evident, and she would reach out to them.”

On Monday, audience members at the Capitol Center were reminded to “keep on dancing through life” as Molly would have.

“We all miss her, but we need to be happy about the memories, not be sad,” Gracie said. “I’m really happy I had her as a sister.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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