Some people just walk into your life and automatically change it. This is one of those stories.
In 2007, many moons ago, I was a fresh faced 22 year old who had just landed a sweet gig working at a murder mystery dinner theater in Chattanooga. I was getting sporadic shows on Thursdays and Saturdays, but for the first few months I was almost guaranteed to be in the Friday show – The Mystery of Flight 138. Which was fine with me – it was my personal favorite and secretly, it was the best show there (sorry Redneck Wedding fans).
For the most part, I had worked with the same cast each week. It was great for me because I was able to build chemistry with these actors and learn to work off of them. I wasn’t particularly fond of my character (or the fact that my character had to lay in an uncomfortable airline seat for sometimes up to an hour or so [cops ran long back then. I’m sure I’m guilty of that too. Also, brackets for parenthetical inside a parenthetical? Asking for a me]), but I loved the actors I worked with. I thought we pretty much had the best of the best working our best show.
Boy, was I wrong.
I got to the theater early to dress for my role as airport security. As I looked at our call sheet that night, I noticed a name I’d never seen before playing the role of Ivan, the director of the movie inside the play. I thought nothing of it, got dressed and went out to mess with people as “airport security”. Not long after I went out, here comes the actor who I had never met before. The first thing I noticed was, “holy smokes that guy looks like Hugh Laurie”. He immediately walks over to me, never breaking character, and says, “Well cadet, are you ready?” I stood up straight, saluted him, and gave my best, “YES, SIR”. From there, we went back and forth harassing patrons. We would make the other patrons in line simultaneously laugh and dread being next. Only after the lobby was emptied did he crack his first smile, lower his sunglasses, extend his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Jeff”.
This was the first time I met the man who I can say without any hesitation has made the greatest impact on my adult life – Jeff Buchwald.
After blowing me away with his improv and comedic abilities, I was fired up to see what Jeff would bring to the Ivan character. Remember, at this point I had only seen it done one way. After spending the last 45 minutes with the guy, I knew we were going to have a terrific show.
And a terrific show was had.
Jeff came out and commanded the Vaudeville stage like no one I had ever seen. He was Ivan, and he was amazing. Throughout the entire show, I would watch Jeff and think, “Why is this dude only doing a show every so often? He should be in EVERY SHOW!”.
Jeff didn’t come back until a few weeks later. This time he played Ivan on Friday, Coach Conroy for our early Saturday show, and Poppa for the late show. And again, he not only blew me away but stole every single show. It got to the point really quick where I got incredibly excited, practically giddy, every time I saw Jeff’s name on the schedule. Because I knew that 1) The audience would not walk away disappointed and B) selfishly I was going to have a lot of fun that night.
Slowly but surely, Jeff started acting in more shows more often. His talent was too great to be ignored. In 2010, I was asked to come on as the Creative Director of the shows. One of the first phone calls I made was to Jeff asking for his support and hoping he would do more shows with us. Thankfully, he gave his support and told me to put him in more. It may have been the best thing I did in my two stints as Director. I mean, if you have Michael Jordan on your team, you don’t have him riding the bench, right? And Jeff was our Michael Jordan.
As time went on, Jeff went from the “older roles” to every male role, with the exception of a couple (and if Vaudeville were still around, he would have played those now, too). It went from being surprised Jeff was there to being surprised he wasn’t there. The more Jeff Buchwald was around Vaudeville Cafe, the better everyone was. He raises everyone to a higher standard.
He was also the spirit of Vaudeville Cafe. He was our Barnabas, our encourager. Jeff never missed an opportunity to tell a fellow actor about something he loved that they did onstage. He never missed an opportunity to pull an actor aside and heap praise on the privately and never missed an opportunity to do that publicly. I was the leader in title, Jeff was the leader in his actions.
When Vaudeville shut down last year, it felt like a family member died. In a lot of ways, that’s exactly what it was. I personally lost a lot from it. But the thing I’ve lamented more than anything else is the fact that I don’t get to see my brother every week or every other week like I used to. Like Red said about Andy, “I just miss my friend”.
I earlier stated that no other person has had a greater impact on my adult life than Jeff. I mean that. I know it’s easy to say those kinds of things on special days such as today, but I truly mean it. Jeff made and continuous to make me want to be a better actor, a better friend, a better person. He is my number one fan, my mentor, my go to for advice. He’s the guy I want to be when I grow up. Most importantly, he’s family, and he’s the best man I know.
Today is his birthday. I know it’s cliche (especially for me) to write sappy things about someone on their special day, but this guy deserves it. He actually deserves it every day of the year, but he’s far too humble to accept that much praise.
Jeff, thank you for being you. The most talented, loving, wonderful guy I know. Thank you for letting me an honorary Buchwald, thank you for sharing your talents with us for so many years. Thank you.
Bass or Tenor…