Peter Pan Revisited, our 1969 freshman play, a musical

By Anthony Buccino

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Amidst his explanation of the parts of the play and the roles of the actors, in walked the lady who was the head of the English department.

‘Leff’ quickly bridged to a diatribe on mythology and Greek gods and Roman gods. We stared, entranced by this sudden new material and strange names as he droned on about Zeus, Ares, Janus, Jason and the Argonauts.

We thought he would never run out of exposition about the legends and myths. To us mostly 14-year-olds, our English teacher seemed to be about a 100, even though he dressed like some of our older brothers.


It’s been a long time since I’ve thought  much about Peter Pan, much less my freshman English class production of the rock ‘n’ roll version called affectionately “Peter Pan Revisited.”

It’s been nearly 25 years since I cast off the coils of high school and almost 30 years since that first play, but many memories of those rehearsals and those freshman classmates appear before me and the stage is set every time I close my eyes.

September of 1968 started out mostly like any other school year. The mornings were cool enough to need a jacket and the hot afternoons left us longing to shuck our clothes and jump in every swimming pool all along the way home.

Robert Leffelbine, English teacher, Belleville Junior High SchoolIn English that year we would not have to diagram sentences. That’s what our new teacher, Bob Leffelbine, told us. We were going to learn about literature, and of course there would be vocabulary. It wasn’t just spelling anymore. After all, we were freshmen and this was supposed to be our prelude to high school and the real world.

However, it was not long before that English teacher started talking to us about stage left, stage right and the other parts of the stage. He was excited telling us about the stage and asides and soliloquies and other terms of the theater.

It was all new to us, but his enthusiasm somehow sank into the freshman minds and before we knew it we had become as enthralled as he was with this stage stuff and, yes, acting too.

Amidst his explanation of the parts of the play and the roles of the actors, in walked the lady who was the head of the English department.

‘Leff’ quickly bridged to a diatribe on mythology and Greek gods and Roman gods. We stared, entranced by this sudden new material and strange names as he droned on about Zeus, Ares, Janus, Jason and the Argonauts.

We thought he would never run out of exposition about the legends and myths. To us mostly 14-year-olds, our English teacher seemed to be about a 100, even though he dressed like some of our older brothers.

And his lesson abruptly ended when his department chair left the class. He switched back to the place where his love proved to be, in the production of a play, and without asking us, somehow he knew that we would be the cast and crew of his production. We were sure that whatever he came up with, we who were without any training in theater, would do justice to the show.

This crew of neo-thespians he had acquired by luck of the English classes he drew to teach soon pitched in to, as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney used to say in those corny old movies, “Let’s put on a show!”

Belleville Junior High lead actors - Peter Pan Revisited, 1969

Not only were we suddenly dedicated to the production of a silly little play he wrote called, “Peter Pan Revisited,” but we were so excited that many of us came in to rehearse our parts during the Christmas vacation week. 

It was a sure bet that none of these kids would have come into school during a vacation for any other reason at any other time.

But there was something in the way this whole play-thing was presented that our English teacher sparked an untapped desire in us, even the ones of us who would never step on a stage again for the rest of their lives.

We all were drawn in to the excitement. Even those among us who didn’t care about the play, who would never sing on the stage, whose only job was to move a piece of scenery or stand behind Peter when Captain Hook and the bad guys came along.

Rehearsal on bare naked stage of Peter Pan Revisited, 1969

All of us non-essential actors realized that as long as we were working on this silly little play, then we would not have to learn anything in English class.

So, watching the other kids work on the stage, watching them learn about blocking, upstage and down stage, and voice projection and ultimately how to lip-sing to their own tapes, was for the rest of us all a break from actually learning anything, we reasoned.

What could be better than going through a whole school year and not having to learn anything?

Of course, there were a few moments when the supporting cast got out of hand. While the leading cast was singing on-stage, some of us, and I won’t say who, had other things going on.

One of the more creative among us took the copy of the script he had and reworked all the dialogue into the most foul language any of us knew. It was shocking and hysterically funny at the same time. Who could expect 14-year-old boys to be serious forever and not somehow bring sex into everything they do? Fortunately, our English teacher/director/playwright never knew what those boys in the back of the auditorium were laughing at.

Our teacher had a play to produce, and, by God, the show must go on.

As we got closer to the performance dates of our version of “Peter Pan Revisited” we found that his other English classes had been enlisted to work on scenery and put our class of actors into make-up.

Peter Pan Revisited enlisted other classses, 1969

The other class showed up with fishing tackle boxes of poofy creams and tubes of goo that they insisted on putting not only on our faces but on the back of our hands as well as any part of our flesh that would otherwise give us a ghostly hue as we were washed out in the high-intensity lights beaming on each of us from the proscenium.

This fossilized English teacher of ours was not using kiddy make-up on us. He was using the real stuff just like they use on real stage actors. And this real-professional style make-up stuff only came off with real actor-type deep-cleaning cleanser that made your face and even the back of your hands sting as you removed the make-up goo. Mary Ann Castellano put on my makeup. I was one of Peter’s guys and I had to wear green. I didn’t have any lines, and I stood behind a rock.

Before we actually took the stage, ‘Leff’ told us about stage lore, such as “it’s bad luck to whistle in a dressing room,” and never say, “good luck” to an actor.

And believe it or not, want it or not, when the stage was set and the lights were lit, and that curtain went up, we were all actors who gave our all to the show that our English teacher wrote and called “Peter Pan Revisited.”

So in all these nearly 30 years since that play helped me squeak through another year of high school English without learning anything, or so I thought at the time, I’ve learned a few things about that old English teacher.

First of all, he wasn’t really as old as Methuselah. As a matter of fact, most 14-year-olds don’t have a whole lot of perception between being 25 and 55, so old is old.

In fact, the year we had him and he put us into that silly little play he wrote called “Peter Pan Revisited” was his first year as an English teacher. And at the time the writing and production and success of it was no less an achievement than Charles Dickens scribbling “Great Expectations.”

Our English teacher was running on enthusiasm and passion. And he past that on to us in the year we had together. But ours wasn’t the only class that benefited from his passion for performance.

Through these nearly 30 years, other classes have come and gone and, I’m sure, earned their respect of my freshman class English teacher through whatever capacity he used to touch their hearts.

In the years since he taught my class and kept his heart in acting and theater we had occasion to talk a time or two. And he always had a bright smile and a great big, read: sincere, hello.

So, the last time I saw him he was in a teachers’ talent show to benefit something or another. Ironically he had no lines, he simply stood down stage as a director watching the long-legged dancer on the stage.

Perhaps he was Bob Fosse and the dancer Cyd Charisse, or perhaps that is what memory does. But forever I shall remember him as the director.

For all he taught me when I didn’t think I was learning, thanks for the memories, Bob.


Robert Leffelbine died suddenly at age 50 on April 1, 1997, meaning the old English teacher was who encouraged our class to put on his musical was barely 23 years old at the time.


© 1996 by Anthony Buccino

'The freshman play was more than a stage' was first published April 24, 1997, in Worrall Community Newspapers.

Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND  Inside and Outside at the Same Time

Photos Vista 1969 yearbook.

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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.

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