Lost: one prince; one white horse

JUST a few weeks ago I went to see a production of ``The Student Prince.'' It seems that no one under age 40 had ever heard of it. The music was wonderful. Sigmund Romberg melodies echoed in the lobby as people hummed their way back to their Cadillacs. But something was wrong. It was like strawberry shortcake on a bran muffin.

No one in the audience knew what the words meant. That was because the actors didn't, either. When the Prince held Kathie's hand in the garden, he didn't miss any lines, but the message sounded like reciting a recipe for Wiener schnitzel. The scene gave off all the compelling charm of mashed potatoes after three days in the refrigerator. Sure, the Prince promised faithfully to come back, but no one tingled at the thought.

Since then I have discovered the problem. The dialogue was written when people knew about romance. Actors and audiences communicated because romance was something one breathed, like air. But romance, as a viable commodity, apparently disappeared unnoticed in, or around, the early 1960s. It was displaced by graphic physicality, which required less art.

If there could be such a thing as a portrayal of serenading a girl under her window in today's videotape world, it would evolve as a screaming contest between a vocalist wearing a bright, neon yellow and pink striped, jewel-studded sweat shirt and an electronic sound track. He would probably have purple porcupine hair and would indicate the words had meaning by giving off frenzied, jerky, gyrations around a huge guitar.

``Deep in my heart, dear . . .'' may have meaning now only in that great cornfield in the sky.

In today's transplant world there is a vacuum where heartfelt things once existed. How could people look at each other and feel togetherness uncemented by a boy-girl wrestling match?

Maybe romance will come around again, like riding railroad trains. Or maybe it will only be historically recorded by college courses in ``Romantic-speak,'' in which professors will learnedly explain how thoughts were once conveyed by a fanciful extension of word-meaning into feelings of rapture.

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