Monday, October 27, 2014

A surprisingly functional showbiz family

Sept. 14
Some of the very best lines came toward the end of the September Mark Medoff tribute, “Far From Finished” at New Mexico State University’s Center for the Arts.
One was from the man of the hour himself.
“Now, you don’t have to come to my funeral,” Mark quipped, after a gala dinner and some fast-paced hours that included a full Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra with conductor Lonnie Klein in white tie and tails, Debra Knapp’s NMSU dancers, a 60-member chorus and lots of celebrity appearances and film clips that reminded us just how impressive Medoff career has been. Performers included Mark’s daughter, Jessica Medoff Bunchman and her childhood amigo Don Groves (both grew up to be professional touring opera singers.)
If the tears glistening from center stage were any indication, Mark’s personal fave performance of the evening might have come from granddaughter Grace Marks, who delivered a brave and moving rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
There was a lot of family in the show, which featured tributes to Medoff’s wife and “love of my life” Stephanie and their three daughters Debra, Rachel and Jessica, sons-in-law and grandchildren, including the newest, little Hope Elizabeth, born with major challenges, but clearly gifted when it comes to giving and receiving love.
In fact, conversations at the gala after-party indicated that the Medoffs greatest achievement over a long and stellar career may well have been nurturing a close, loving and amazingly functional family while navigating life in a notoriously dysfunctional business.
Their decision to remain in Las Cruces was lauded and was cited by many at the benefit (which featured a lot more toasting than roasting) as a factor in the Medoff’s extraordinary relationship with immediate and extended family. And that family seems to include much of Southern New Mexico and points north, south, east and west.
Which brings us to one of the other greatest lines of the evening, from superachiever writer-producer Don Foster (his credits include “Roseanne,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Dharma & Greg” and “Mike and Molly.”)
Foster described himself as “a scruffy under-achiever from Alamogordo” when he became a theater major at NMSU and studied with Medoff.
He said Mark inspired his students to “walk the walk and talk the talk,” and led by his own example.
Foster noted that Mark always maintains he gets as much back as he gives when it comes to teaching and mentoring students.
“I have to tell you, that’s mathematically impossible. There are thousands of us,” Foster said.
Lately, I’ve been celebrating two decades here myself and reflecting on what makes Las Cruces my quenencia, that special hard-to-translate concept that, as I have come to understand it, is a person-place bond that is comparable to a soulmate relationship.
There’s something about the land, the climate, the history, our unique blend of art, agriculture and academia, alma y corazon that attracts, retains and nurtures some of the most remarkable souls I’ve encountered on this planet. And those extraordinary souls have made outstanding, world-class contributions in an amazing variety of fields. Many have considerably lower profiles than the Medoffs, but all seem to have some interesting characteristics in common, including a desire to share their knowledge and talents to teach, mentor and nurture others.
We’ve all heard cynical comments about big frogs in small ponds.
The Medoffs and their world-class ilk are something different: examples of what happens when big frogs make the big time, and instead of moving on to settle permanently in the Big Apple or Hollywood, decide to stay and live in smaller ponds and help inspire generations of pollywogs to grow and develop their own talents.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

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