I just spent the day remembering the life of Lindsay Thomas, and it has driven me to write down some thoughts.
Lindsay and I met about 15 months ago, on our first day of rehearsals for Jersey Boys in Toronto. She was cast as Francine and about a hundred other smaller parts. We became friendly right away, as often happens when new casts gather for rehearsals. We didn't hang out, go for meals together or talk on the phone, because there was so much work to be done getting the show up to speed. But you could say we hit it off.
In those early days, all I knew of Lindsay was her stunning smile, her infectious spirit, her radiant energy, and her abundant talent. I knew she had many friends and a long-term partner in Stratford, Gareth Potter, a fellow I had played cricket against while I was at Shaw. She quickly earned respect for her work in Jersey Boys, and I came to rely on her to be ever-present in our scene-work.
Once the show opened in December and we started to settle into the run, we began to notice a slight change in her. She often became ill, and had to take some time off for a bad cough to heal. Bronchitis, she was told. But her health continues to worsen and it left her having bad coughing fits offstage. She was encouraged to seek further insight into her health, and throughout this time of going for tests, she maintained her perky spirit. She'd come to work, run around backstage from the stage to the costume booth and back, belt out the high notes in "My Boyfriend's Back", do all the choreo like a pro, and all with a smile on her face. What a trooper.
Yet things continued to worsen. When she needed to take an extended leave from the show, we knew something serious was going on. And when we heard she had cancer, stage 4 lung cancer, our minds went blank and our hearts sunk. How is that possible? How could she have cancer - she's 30 years old, fit as a fiddle, living a healthy lifestyle... it just didn't make sense.
But Linds handled her diagnosis and prognosis like a saint. She stayed positive, she was determined to beat it, and get well again. She had tremendous support from her family, from Gareth and from his family, and from her close friends. They wrapped her in a "Cocoon of Love" as she put it, and it was helping.
On her final day of chemo, the cast of Jersey Boys surprised her as she was leaving the hospital. We were waiting outside the main doors in a line, each ringing a bell for her. I'll never forget the look on her face. She was so moved seeing us there, as we were seeing her there. She immediately came over and hugged each one of us, thanked us for coming, and tossed her hat off to reveal her beautiful bald skull. We gave Lindsay her 1-year anniversary gift from Jersey Boys, and a cheque to cover some of her expenses, monies that were graciously donated by our audiences over a one-week period. She was moved to tears. And beaming, ear to ear.
That was the last time I saw Lindsay.
Since learning of her death last Wednesday, getting through the 'Francine' moments in the show has been difficult. I've somehow managed it, but it is almost creepy how real the loss feels. I know maintaining my composure will be a challenge going forward, but I think we will soldier on and honour her in the only way we can, by doing the show.
As my faithful readers know I have had some difficulties with that particular song in the past. In part because it comes immediately on the heels of learning of Francine's death, but also because death is so difficult to talk about and comprehend.
I was surprised to learn this week that Lindsay's favorite part of the show was "Fallen Angel", a scene in which she doesn't even say a word. Yet, the power of that moment in the theatre each night was palpable, and I could feel her support and connection to me each night as she sat on that bench and touched my hand. It was because of her commitment to her character, to the moment, to the relationship with me that made it all come together.
When I was asked by Gareth to sing "Fallen Angel" at her memorial service this afternoon because it meant so much to Lindsay, I was floored. Gareth insisted that Lindsay would have wanted me to. I asked Gareth if it would be alright since Fallen Angel is quite short if I could honour Lindsay by adding on a verse and chorus of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You". He agreed that it would be a lovely gesture. I was accompanied on guitar by the incomparable Levon Ickhanian, and we rehearsed the number a couple times yesterday.
The memorial service was amazing. First of all, the church in Stratford was packed. Outside, the line snaked down the sidewalk and onto the street, and inside it was standing room only. Hundreds and hundreds of people traveled for hours to attend the service. And I know there were hundreds of other people who wanted to come, but just couldn't make the trip because of work or other commitments. So, to describe the scene for you, it was a simple church with pews on either side of a centre aisle, and more seats upstairs in a small balcony. Things were elegantly laid out, with a beautiful picture of Lindsay blown up and centered on the stage. It was surrounded by large bouquets of flowers, and in front was a silver urn. There was a grand piano to the left of the stage and a few microphones for the singers nearby. The speakers were eloquent, the tone was a perfect balance of light and heavy, the music was moving, the decorations beautiful and elegant without being ostentatious. Even the sunlight managed to make a graceful appearance streaming through the windows.
As for my performance, it went really well. I was surprisingly composed through "Fallen Angel", but oddly, things changed when I got into "Can't Take...". "You're just too good to be true...". I started feeling a bit overwhelmed, so I looked down towards the floor to focus and gather my strength. Placed exactly where I cast my gaze was a small table with a beautiful coffee-table book that someone had made for Lindsay. On the cover was a gorgeous picture of her, smiling. She seemed to be looking right at me. "You'd be like Heaven to touch, I want to hold you so much". I sang right to her for a couple lines, and felt a wave of calmness come over me. I looked back up and finished the song comfortably. "You're just too good to be true."
I think what I'll remember most from the service was how it came to an end. After listening to moving speeches by both Lindsay's parents and Gareth, everyone was asked to sing along to the Elton John classic "Tiny Dancer", an ode to Lindsay. To a man, every single person in that church was on their feet, reading the lyrics in the program, and belting out that song to a solo piano accompaniment. It was such a joyful moment for me. The entire community was as one. Colleagues, friends and family alike, coming together to honour a sweet young woman, through a song. I had tears in my eyes, yet again.
When the song ended, there was silence for about 10 seconds while we all stood there moved from the experience. Then, someone started clapping. Within a second, the church rang out with thunderous applause. The crammed full house gave Lindsay a stunning three-minute standing ovation, the kind where first your hands start to hurt, then your arms get sore, but you keep going anyway because she damn-well deserves it. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful memorial service.
Afterward we all gathered in the Marquis Hall at the Festival Theatre for a simple reception. Kudos to the Stratford Festival for laying out the spread in what was a very classy move. And, speaking of classy, I wanted to thank Dodger Theatricals and Dancap, the producers of Jersey Boys Toronto. I was supposed to be singing the national anthems at the Leafs game in Toronto yesterday, and upon learning of Lindsay's death, they pulled the event so that I would be free to go to her memorial. Not only that, they allowed me to perform the two songs from the show and sent a beautiful large bouquet of flowers too. Very classy.
Anyway, in trying to take away something positive from this experience, I've been doing a lot of thinking. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I think I've got a good start. I'm going to take a little piece of what I learned from Lindsay with me everywhere I go. I'm going to smile more. I'm going to ask you how you're doing first. I'm going to care about my situation less, and the predicaments of others more. I'm going to reach out to friends more, stay in touch a bit better. I'm going to tell my loved ones that I love them more.
When it all comes down to it, what really matters in life is the people you love and the people who love you. That's the only real currency there is. It isn't money, power, or success or whatever bullshit we think is important. It's love.
Somehow, Lindsay knew that. She may be gone, but she'll live on in my heart and in the hearts of hundreds of others too, because she knew how to love. God bless you, Linds. And thank you for all you've done. You will be missed.
I love you.