I’m not crying, you’re crying — A moving final curtain for Candlelight — podcast
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s all about Ben, and always has been.
That’s the late Ben Bollinger, co-founder of the Candlelight Pavilion, whose 37-year run officially came to a close Sunday when his much-loved theater went out in style, with a sold out crowd on its feet and tears flowing onstage and throughout the house.
Though he died in 2018, the larger-than-life patriarch’s presence still loomed Sunday. As Mick Bollinger, his son and successor as master of ceremonies at the Candlelight, stepped up for the final time to thank the cast, crew, staff and audience at the Claremont dinner theater, the emotional weight of the moment was profound.
I was sure crying, and even my 12-year-old son shed a tear as Mick got to talking about his late father.
“So, to talk about him on his stage, in his house, was the only thing that I didn’t have the strength to muscle through,” he told me Monday.
Both Mick, 58, and his sister, Mindy Teuber, 52, worked at the Candlelight since they were teenagers. They were at the helm as general manager/vice president and producer, respectively, from the time their father stepped aside late in his life.
That Mick broke down Sunday was no surprise to his sister.
“He was a crybaby, an absolute wear your heart on your sleeve crybaby, which was beautiful,” Mindy said of her dad. “And he had a brother, who, anytime my dad spoke publicly, would usually stand somewhere behind him and step in and pick up the pieces. So, interestingly in our family I have assumed that role for Mick, who is just exactly like my dad.”
Mick became a treasured, natural front man for the Candlelight, just like his father. His years as a self-described class clown in high school, his affable nature, and comfort with the spotlight prepared him well for the role, even if he didn’t see it coming.
“I always say the world needs more Micks, because he just loves people, and loves to show his love for things, and through that is usually with a bit of tears,” Mindy said. “So, I have kind of learned to be a bit more stoic if that’s the right word, knowing that at any moment I might be stepping in to speak for him.”
Mindy shed her tears in private.
“I try and hold it together as best I can, knowing there can’t be two crybabies in the house,” she said.
On Sunday, performers and musicians from throughout the Candlelight’s history joined together with new faces to close it out in bravura style. The final show was a powerhouse tour-de-force of what the Candlelight did best; the stage was bristling with talent, which only served to remind everyone of what we were all losing. Hence the tears.
Among the sold out crowd of 300 were 50 members of the Bollinger family. Matriarch Lois Bollinger, who took over sole ownership of the Candlelight after husband Ben’s death, was among them. Standing onstage at the end of it all, with the crowd still applauding, she was, at 82, the picture of elegance and poise.
“It was very emotional,” Lois said of the last show. “We’re proud of what we did. It filled a need, and it filled it very, very well. We’re very proud.”
Both Mindy and Mick used the same word when asked what it was like to mount the final four-week retrospective show, “Candlelight Jubilee.”
“Not only does it take a toll on you, you have to let it fuel you, because of the fact that love fuels anything, man,” Mick said. “That’s what brought us through the whole thing.”
“Everyone in that room was just in that same space of just trying to preserve that beautiful feeling of love that we created,” Mindy echoed.
Ben Bollinger dreamed up the Candlelight nearly four decades ago with a simple pencil-drawn schematic on a napkin while having coffee at a diner near Citrus College. Since it opened in 1985, he’s been part of every show, even after his passing, his children told me. Sunday’s sendoff was the capstone to that decades-long love letter.
“I know through this whole thing that we’ve done him proud,” Mick said. “That’s what motivated me through the whole thing, that we knew we were making the right decision, and we knew we were going out in the right way.”
I’ll say. The Candlelight’s final sold out run, had more than 1,000 people on the waiting list. Those lucky enough to nab a seat on Sunday were treated to a fantastic lunch, courtesy of Mick and Mindy, along with a nearly four-hour show from a brilliant cast singing dozens of songs from throughout the modern history of musical theater, all accompanied by a live band of top-tier musicians.
It was an encore to 37 years of entertainment the Candlelight brought to literally millions of folks who made the trek to little ol’ Claremont. Hundreds of them showed their appreciation in comment cards pinned to the walls and on tables, and hundreds more have weighed in on its Facebook page since the February announcement of its closing. Many of the Candlelight’s early employees stuck around for the whole run, as did countless patrons.
When the Candlelight opened in 1985, the golden age of Broadway and movie musicals was only about 35 years in the rear view mirror. Its first patrons were at that time were primarily empty nesters, and the new theater filled perfectly their naturally nostalgic inclination for the days of their youth. Many of the theater’s early fans stayed with it, supporting right up to Sunday.
All this is to say the Candlelight’s primary audience skewed older, many in their 70s and 80s, a demographic that’s all but forgotten by today’s purveyors of popular entertainment.
But watching Sunday’s knockout performances, it struck me that even though we live in a Tic-Tok world, where “stars” bubble up into popular culture via homemade three-minute iPhone videos, there’s one thing the Candlelight’s model brought to the table that will always have currency: talent never goes out of style.
At the end of the day, everyone in the house was on their feet as chants rose up, “Lois, Lois, Lois,” “Mick, Mick, Mick,” then “Mindy, Mindy, Mindy.”
“You just feel love,” Mick said of the moment. “And you feel not only love, but you feel loved. And it’s because dad gave us the opportunity to share that with all these people, and we did it. And I know he’s proud of what we did. Knowing that brought me peace.”
Perhaps now it’s time to for us to take stock of our remaining cultural institutions in Claremont. As this latest preventable loss has laid bare, nothing lasts forever if we don’t nurture it, support it, and, if need be, fight for it. I think we should all be more proactive in supporting the unique people and places we value.
The Candlelight is gone. The Laemmle theater is not long for Claremont.
I’d like to thank the Bollinger family for its 37-year gift of theater, music and good food. Claremont is certainly a less interesting place without the Candlelight Pavilion.