Navy flutist brings vocal skills to radio stage
Scott Barkhurst's musical background adds depth to his theatrical chops
Scott Barkhurst has dozens of theatrical productions to his credit plus a lifetime of musical gigs. Photo by Scott Kelley.
One of the hallmarks of Fred Crafts’ Radio Redux re-enactments of classic radio plays is the ability of the actors to take on multiple roles — with distinctly differentiated voices — in a single play.
Scott Barkhurst, who has been involved with Radio Redux since its early days, is used to the task. In Radio Redux’s November 2018 production of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the veteran actor and musician said he would be doing four —maybe even five — parts.
“I will be playing an American radio announcer, a British radio announcer, Major White, and I can’t remember the others,” Barkhurst said. “But that’s one of the best things about being part of Radio Redux — you don’t have to memorize the roles, just create the voices of the characters.
“Another plus is that because the production is done just like the original radio plays, without sets or lots of rehearsals, it takes just a week or so to put the show together.” And finally, Barkhurst said with a laugh, “You can’t beat all that.”
By the time Radio Redux came along, Barkhurst already had more than 40 theatrical productions to his credit, including a lifetime of musical gigs in which he played flute and piccolo.
But his long performance history in itself made Radio Redux even more welcome, Barkhurst said.
“Once you get over 60 years old, it’s hard to find good roles,” he said. “And you don’t usually want to spend huge amounts of time for ‘chorus’ parts. With Radio Redux, that’s not a factor.”
Salesman No. 4
Barkhurst grew up in Eugene and Corvallis, graduating from South Eugene High School in 1964, during the days when impresario Ed Ragozzino was beginning to make his indelible mark on Eugene-area musical theater.
“My first show with Ragozzino was The Music Man, in 1963,” Barkhurst said. “I was cast as Salesman No. 4.” (Footnote: Radio Reduxer Judi Weinkauf (then Johnson) played the lead role of Marian the Librarian in that SEHS production).
The mesmerizing opening number in the show features a bevy of traveling salesman on a train, doing a rapid-fire spoken exchange — almost a precursor of rap — about their work travails and the questionable antics of one Harold Hill, the character in the show’s title role.
“I still remember it,” Barkhurst said. “In my life, it was one of those ‘forks in the road,’ one of those things that kind of changes your life, hearing the orchestra on opening night playing that big music and just being part of that performance.”
Crafts noted he values Barkhurst’s blend of performance skills.
“Scott is as talented as a musician as he is as an actor,” Crafts said. “I’ve admired his work since we first met via a Ragozzino production years ago. We were eager to bring his range of voices and adaptability into our shows. It’s such a privilege to have him now in the Radio Redux family.”
After high school, Barkhurst enrolled at the University of Oregon with the intention of majoring in music, “but after a year-and-a-half I realized that I wasn’t good enough to be a performance major,” he recalled, “and I couldn’t visualize being a band teacher for the rest of my life.”
After talks with a guidance counselor and a friend, he decided to major in journalism, focusing on advertising and public relations. “But I still kept music as an unofficial minor, and I still kept playing flute and piccolo.”
Barkhurst takes on a variety of voices with Radio Redux.
Barkhurst points out one of several cartoons he drew on the wall of the men’s dressing room at The Very Little Theatre, commemorating one of the many plays in which he has acted there. Photo by Randi Bjornstad.
After a friend received a draft deferment while in college then became a Navy public relations officer after graduating, Barkhurst decided to try the same path. “I put journalism down as my first choice (as a Navy job), but the officer told me there was only about a chance of one in a hundred that I would get that assignment, and that I would be much more likely to be assigned to something like becoming a signalman on an aircraft carrier.”
Then suddenly, he realized, “I thought of the man who had been my flute teacher, and remembered that he had played flute in the Army Band,” Barkhurst said. “So I said, ‘You do have music groups in the Navy, don’t you? Because I play the flute.' ”
Yes, came the answer, but it’s by audition and it’s very hard to get accepted. Barkhurst said he was willing to try.
“I went there and did my usual warmup, scales and stuff,” he recalled of the audition. “The guy had me play some marches, which was easy because I had done a lot of that in band.
“Then came sight reading, and after a couple of minutes the guy said, ‘Well, I guess I don’t need to hear any more.’ I thought for sure I had failed, but then he said, ‘You must have had a wonderful teacher,’ and I was accepted.”
He discovered that the shortage of male flutists in military bands opened up doors for him; before long, he was told to apply for the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, D.C. The day he auditioned, while waiting in the hall for his appointment, he could hear the band practicing.
“It was the best band I had ever heard, so I thought my chances weren’t very good, especially when I found out that one of the flutists had a degree in flute performance from the Juilliard School, and another had a degree from the Eastman School of Music.”
After the audition, Barkhurst was introduced to the band leader, “who said to me, ‘You have a degree from the University of Oregon?’ ” Barkhurst’s heart sank as he had to admit his degree wasn’t in music but journalism.
“Journalism? Could you do public relations for us, too?” the band leader asked — and Barkhurst was in. “It was all I could do not to look up to see if there was some guardian angel there looking after me,” he said.
He played flute in the Navy Ceremonial Band for a year, then spent two years doing year-round concerts with the Navy Concert Band, including spring concert tours throughout the eastern half of the United States.
Upon leaving the service, he returned to Oregon, did some graduate work at the UO and resumed his musical and theatrical performance activities in his spare time. His day jobs included serving as advertising manager for the Tiffany’s drugstore chain from 1974-88, then moving to the UO music school where he spent the next 23 years directing public relations until his retirement in 2011.
Barkhurst rehearses for The Day The Earth Stood Still with Radio Redux in November 2018. Photo by Fred Crafts.
He and his wife — pianist, singer and music teacher Marlene Barkhurst — both remain active in performing at First United Methodist Church in Eugene. He still appears regularly on theater stages, including Actors Cabaret of Eugene, The Shedd Institute for the Arts, and the Very Little Theatre as well as Radio Redux.
A real Mel Blanc fan
One of the reasons Barkhurst finds doing voices for Radio Redux easy and fun is his lifelong fascination with cartoon voices.
“I grew up watching cartoons, and Mel Blanc, who was the king of the voice actors, was a favorite,” he said.
Barkhurst once decided to host a potluck that happened to fall on Mel Blanc’s birthday so sent out invitations peopled with cartoon characters, and he played videotapes of cartoons with Mel Blanc’s voices during the gathering. The party quickly became a tradition.
Somewhere in the mid-1980s, someone at the party said he thought Blanc had died earlier that year. About three months later, he heard from John Noel, whose mother-in-law (mother of Debi Noel, a Jewel Tones member) knew Mel Blanc, and who said that Mel Blanc was alive and well.
That December, no doubt thanks to that friend-of-Blanc, Barkhurst received a publicity picture in the mail of the voice actor surrounded by images of his characters and signed, “Merry Christmas, Mel Blanc.”
“I framed that picture and hung it in my dining room,” Barkhurst said.
The next May, “I sent a thank-you message, a picture of my previous year’s party, and an invitation to that year’s party to Mel Blanc’s office,” he said. “An hour into the party, the phone rang. I answered it, and a Bugs Bunnyish voice said, ‘Nyeeeeh, hello, Doc, is this Scott Barkhurst?’ I was stunned and delighted. Mel and I had a brief chat, and before he hung up we all gathered around the phone and sang Happy Birthday to him, in four-part harmony.”
The next year Blanc called again, and the one after. But the fourth year, in 1989, there wasn’t a call.
“I found out later the he had died that year (1989),” Barkhurst said. “Somewhere along the way, I bought his autobiography and learned that he spent part of his childhood in Portland, and went to Cleveland High School.”
As a young man, Blanc also had performed in vaudeville shows throughout Oregon, Washington and northern California.
"Mel Blanc was known as The Man of a Thousand Voices," Barkhurst said, "and I often think of him when I'm doing the various characters that Fred assigns me for a Radio Redux show."
— Randi Bjornstad, who retired from The Register-Guard as a features writer, now writes for Eugene Scene.