IN LIFE it would never have crossed Paul Denham’s mind to try and steal the show.
And he had no intention of doing it in death.
So the heartbeat of Echuca-Moama Theatre Company was farewelled with an intimate gathering behind drawn curtains before Saturday’s Phantom of the Opera matinee took place.
The de facto eulogy for his thespian family was delivered by Phantom co-director John Wright who, like nearly everyone gathered around him, had been long mentored by Denham.
It wasn’t Henry V, Act IV Scene iii. He didn’t exhort the cast to storm the enemy.
But he did ask them to carry Paul onto the stage, his stage, one last time.
And they did.
A performance charged with supernatural emotion, a performance that brought the audience to its feet even before the music had faded away.
“Paul was so treasured by this group, by everyone who had worked with him on any of the productions since he helped found EMTC,” Wright said.
“He had been their mentor, their friend and their inspiration – Paul never criticised but he did challenge, demand people boldly test themselves, push themselves to be better,” he said.
“He was trusted, so trusted by the group, by the people with whom he worked, by everyone connected with him.”
Wright said the whole weekend was surreal; everywhere he turned there were the reminders of what Paul Denham had bequeathed not just his theatre company but his whole community.
He said the success of Phantom was a milestone but for Denham it wasn’t just the successful staging of such a major show.
“For Paul it was a case of let’s see what we can achieve together, this fusion of the performing arts and the community’s involvement as supporters, sponsors and patrons,” Wright added.
“That shared passion has been reflected in attendances for our show,” he said.
“Our previous record has been around 2800 tickets sold but for Phantom we have hit 3900, it may go even higher once we get all the figures in.
“The last three shows all received standing ovations; that just doesn’t happen in amateur theatre, especially in small country towns.
“I know I go over the top, and am always clapping everything, but this was really special, we even had people coming two and three times to see the show.
“For Paul, for us, this has all represented something demonstrably bigger, that irresistible message that live theatre in Echuca-Moama has matured, is offering local people real quality.
“We’re not Broadway, and never expect to be, but we are doing marvellous work and we have proved we can always get better.
“We won’t be looking to take an easy backseat after this, we will be looking to follow Phantom with something big and as always we plan it to be something better.”
Wright said as jubilant as the cast and crew had been with Phantom he had no doubt the memory most of them will treasure in the years ahead would be the final dress rehearsal.
When Denham came from his sickbed and with wife Janese, children Debbie Dorow and Anthony Denham and granddaughters Stephanie Dorow and Tess Denham made up a very private and very exclusive audience.
He said after the performance Paul spoke from his hospital chair.
“He didn’t need a microphone to reach the people 20m away on the stage, despite his condition he still had those amazing dulcet tones,” Wright recalled.
“And he wasn’t just saying thanks, as always he was sharing his pride, his passion. He was inspirational.
“With his message ‘whatever we do has to be of this quality’.”
But the last word on Denham’s last show belonged to everyone on the stage, in the wings and in the booth.
Practicing everything, including bows, they weren’t just going through the motions, they were saluting that frail man who would be gone within days but whose presence will tread boards with them for as long as they perform.
It was a spontaneous ovation, a salute, a thank you and they wept through it all.