MEDIA — “Actress, musician, humanitarian, champion of the lost and friend to all,” was the opening of the program card for Celebrating the Life of Ann Crumb. The title says it all, according to Ruth Crumb, Ann’s aunt who developed the program.
In what followed, Crumb, who grew up in the borough and went on to star on Broadway, was consistently described as a force of nature. From those who knew her in both her public and private lives, she was as beloved as any individual could hope to be.
The two-hour program, which followed a reception, was held at the Media Theatre. Artistic Director Jesse Cline said Ann referred to the theater as her “home away from home.” In the last decade of her life, after a career on Broadway and virtually around the world, Ann’s resume at this theatre alone was a collection of dazzling roles, and she was dazzling in them.
“She was a gift to this theater,” Cline said.
Crumb's work at the Media Theatre could be called tip of the iceberg. But Ann was the complete opposite – more like a fabulous cake with layer after layer of sweetness and discovery, something to experience with great delight. The dozen featured speakers and performers delved into those layers, with stories and songs both delightful and heartbreaking.
“She left us much too soon,” said master of ceremonies Steve Bruns. He, like many others, had a long relationship with the Crumb family, starting at the University of Colorado, where Ann’s father, George Crumb, taught earlier in his career.
“Everyone here has cherished memories, for Ann was open-hearted and generous to everyone. She was a lasting gift, an inspiration, and a muse to many, especially her father,” said Bruns in honoring Ann's father, the celebrated composer of modern classical music and retelling of America song.
Each person who appeared had a unique relationship with Ann, with non one of any greater or lesser import. Ann would not have liked that. But fittingly, the first to speak was her cousin, Cindy Crumb, who spoke on behalf of Ann’s parents, George and Elizabeth; brothers Peter and David, and other immediate family members. Her relationship was like a sister who knew the artist, but experienced the playfulness, humor and the intense sadness of Ann’s passing in late October.
“Ann has left her family on Earth, but hasn’t left our hearts,” said Cindy Crumb, who then called Peter to the stage for a brief comment.
Most of Ann’s early years were at the house on Kirk Lane where a number of teenage high jinks took place, said her friend Cheryl Cotton Nash, who recalled life at Penncrest High School.
“Ann was edgy, arty and cool. She was in orchestra, honor society and of course the actress. If Ann auditioned for a leading role, she got it. The first time I saw her stop the show was in ‘Pajama Game,’” said Cotton Nash, knowing then Ann was destined.
Many classmates were in the audience, and many other sent notes and memories Cotton Nash shared.
Barbara Martin met Ann and the family decades ago when she began to perform George Crumb’s American Song Cycles.
“She was a whirlwind and human dynamo. She had a way of lifting everyone up. Ann always looked beautiful and was quite a shopper,” said Martin, who noted she benefited from Ann’s styling on more than one occasion.
Accompanied on piano by another longtime friend and collaborator Marcantonio Barone, Martin performed “Sit Down Sister,” an African-American spiritual recreated by George Crumb for his 2003 American Song Book II. She followed, honoring Ann’s jazz talents, with Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You.”
The uniqueness of Vincent Valenti’s relationship, gently told, was that of that of a partner for “quite a long time.” He first thanked Ann’s parents who “taught her what was important in life and how to find her way.” He met Ann in their 30’s when he was casting a play.
“Ann was dedicated with amazing commitment. She had a compassion that distinguished her. She saved everything she could,” Valenti said, at which point he related a story about Ann tossing drowning bugs from a swimming pool to give them a chance at life.
Although the love of dogs had been and would be repeatedly mentioned by other speakers, Valenti had several stories about episodes at home in New York when Ann would be relentless in rescuing a lost or abused dog, and about a neighbor’s escaped parrot that had to be found – and damned the dinner reservation on tap.
“She was funny and eccentric, loved life and saved life. We must continue to hold on to what we had of her,” he said, concluding his often hard-to-deliver comments.
Jerry Levinson had known George Crumb for many years, starting when Crumb was his first composition teacher at the University of Pennsylvania. But he was introduced to Ann more recently.
“I got to know her through the song books,” Levinson said of George Crumb’s work. “My admiration for her took off by leaps and bounds. As a musician, she was starting fresh with these very challenging songs, many of which were written for her. And she is still singing to us,” Levinson said, referring to Ann’s recordings.
It could be said the trio that played during the earlier reception and then on stage was a “pickup gig.” But each of the three performers was close to the Crumbs in different ways. Pianist Ted Baker was a boyhood friend of Ann’s brother David; violinist Kurt Coble met David at the Eastman School of Music; and bassist Aaron Clay, a 30-year veteran of the President’s Own Marine Band, is married to Ann’s cousin Cindy. They played a piece composed by Baker lovingly called “Ann of Crumb Creek.”
It would not be possible to talk about Ann without quickly getting to dogs. A deep love for animals of all kinds, dogs of every make, breed, condition and nature were at the very heart of Ann’s work for the last decade. Patti Bentivegna and Christine Risley were associates in Rescue Express, which has rescued dogs 2,500 dogs from far and wide.
“Ann thought that dogs were more intelligent, more honest and more loyal than people,” said Bentivegna. “She navigated two worlds and left two legacies She saved lives and she changed lives.”
The work of Rescue Express will continue thanks to the organization Ann has built.
John Introcaso was a New York relationship instantly created out of Ann’s talent and honesty. He spoke personally of his love for her, even joking she was “something special but crazy.” He noted what most others were feeling, “Ann was like nobody else in the world.”
Patrick Ward, Media Theatre managing director, spoke on behalf the entire theater family. The relationship had developed over the years with Ann, first being invited to the theatre’s opening gala 25 years ago. At that point, neither Ward nor Cline knew she was from Media. They had fallen in love with her talent after seeing her starring in “Aspects of Love,” a landmark role for which she was chosen by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Ward, who composed himself a few times to finish, then introduced a video clip of Ann as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” the performance Cline considered her best in Media.
The scene was of Ann singing “As if We Never Said Goodbye.” The audience was mostly in tears. Then applause.
Nicholas Saverine, Ann’s “Sunset Boulevard” costar as Max, performed “New Ways to Dream” as an additional tribute to her talent.
James Freeman has worked with George Crumb for years, especially through Orchestra 2001.
“I was proud and happy to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Ann on her father’s music, much of which had the inspiration of his home in Charlestown, West Virginia. Ann’s mid-career leap into this music was done with humility,” said Freeman, a trait that was mentioned by virtually every one of the participants (along with the love of dogs.)
Ann had the last word, or song to be precise, in the audio played of her father’s composition of “Deep River.” It was poignant to the point of being sorrowful, ending on the lyric, “crossing over the Jordan to the promise land.”