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Longtime Gainesville theater family remembers their father

'Oliver' to open this week with a special dedication

POSTED: July 9, 2011 10:44 p.m.
/For The Times

Mickey Neidenbach, right, performed with his son Tony, left, and his wife Beth in serveral community plays. The Neidenbach family was dedicated to the stage and often performed in shows together. Mickey Neidenbach died suddenly in January, leaving behind a legacy that will be remembered in the Gainesville theater community.

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Although he was a lawyer by trade, Michael "Mickey" Neidenbach was born to be a performer.

"Mickey loved the process of acting, of studying the character and becoming the character," Beth Neidenbach said about her husband.

"When he had any part, he would read and study the script and figure out what motivated that character to say those certain lines and what actions or mannerisms they would have."

Beth Neidenbach spent many years observing his preparation process.

"My husband and I were high school sweethearts at (Gainesville High School) and were both members of the Crimson Chorus," Neidenbach said.

"The chorus did lots of shows and was quite in demand for performing at all the civic organizations. Every year we did a musical. I think I always got parts so Mickey would perform — he was very talented."

Despite being a gifted performer, he left the bright lights of the stage behind to take on a more serious role as a Hall County lawyer. He was content with learning the lines of his clients’ cases until one fateful day in 1996.

During that summer, the Neidenbach children — Libby, John and Tony — all decided to audition for roles in the "Sound of Music," which was being performed by the Pam Ware Summer Community Theatre group.

"All three decided they would like to audition because it would be cool to play siblings," Neidenbach said.

"Well, they came home the first night of auditions feeling pretty good about their chances, but Libby was upset because there had not been anyone there to audition for the role of Captain (Von Trapp)."

Although he tried to convince her that he was too busy for summer theater, his excuses were powerless in the face of his daughter’s pleading.

"At one point, she got down on her knees in front of him with her hands clasped and begged him," Neidenbach remembers.

Finally, Mickey gave in. He auditioned. And won the role. John, Tony and Libby earned their places as Von Trapp children and Neidenbach joined the cast as Franz Schmidt, the housekeeper.

After that, the Neidenbachs were collectively smitten with the summer theater program and became regular participants.

 

Even after their children left for college, the Neidenbachs continued on with the program.

"He was always excited to know what (director Pam Ware) had planned for the next summer and determine what role he would like to audition for," Neidenbach said.

"To Mickey, summer theater was about family — performing with your blood family and your theater family. There were several summers that entire families did the shows, and we would go out to dinner after rehearsal.

"We became close friends with people we probably never would have. To Mickey, that was the magic of summer shows."

Despite having the acting chops to carry leading roles, he wasn’t above filling in wherever he was needed.

"He was the kind of leading man that if a piece of furniture needed to be moved off set, he was right there," Ware said.

"He wasn’t one of those actors who said, ‘I can’t do that.’ He was one of a kind. He was always the one to build up the confidence of his
fellow actors."

Building character was just what he was doing, the night before his sudden death in January.

"We were in call backs for (this summer’s production of) ‘Oliver’ when Mickey died. We had never performed as a couple on stage before and this show has two couples," Beth remembers.

"We were hoping for one of those parts so we could act together. We spent the evening before he died sitting together at the piano bench, figuring out which (part) I could sing the best.

"I was the weak link in the couple, and we wanted to be well prepared for the call back the next night. Unfortunately, we never made the call back."

They didn’t make it, because Mickey died unexpectedly during his morning jog the next day. He was 57 years old.

Although the summer theater group will be missing one of its brightest stars on stage Wednesday evening, that doesn’t mean he won’t be a part of opening night for "Oliver."

"Anytime there was a show, Mickey was right there," Ware said.

"That’s why we’re dedicating this run of ‘Oliver’ in the loving memory of Mickey and all of the years of his involvement."

Although they’re missing their leading man, the Neidenbach family is honored by the memorial — even if he would’ve been embarrassed by it.

"He was always amazed how the theater and his performance touched so many people’s lives and added to their enjoyment. He was always proud and slightly embarrassed when he would be recognized somewhere for a character, which happened often," Neidenbach said.

"He would be thrilled, but would also think he did not deserve such an honor. I am very touched and humbled by the dedication to Mickey.

"The children and I are very proud of his legacy with summer theater."



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