A musical legacy: Bob and Melissa Bohon


Madi Mertz

In the history of of RBHS, there have been only three vocal music teachers. The second, Bob Bohon, taught for nearly thirty years, thousands of students passing through his classes, two of them being his own children.
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An old yearbook photo of Bohon and a few of his students rehearsing choir
There is one man who worked to establish the RBHS performing arts program for almost 30 years, whose teaching touched many a performer, teacher, business owner, doctor and all walks of life.
That man is Bob Bohon, the second of three choir teachers to work at RBHS. He held the position through four decades, from the mid-1970’s through the mid-2000’s.
Bohon helped to design the PAC, and the music hallway, brought show choir and tech theatre to RBHS and continues to influence the community by directing community theatre, Parkade baptist church choir, and continuing to perform across the state and the nation.
Bohon grew up in Sedalia, Missouri, with a family of seven, where music was encouraged, as their mother had never had the opportunity she desired to learn. All siblings took piano lessons as well as one other instrument, and a few, Bohon included, took vocal lessons as they got older.
Possessing a natural talent for the piano, Bohon played for his church from a young age. By the time he was 12, he was “farmed out” to other churches that needed a piano player.
“That’s where my wife [Janie] first met me, was at her church because they had this men’s day at her church. Well they didn’t have any men that could play the piano or anything,” Bohon said, “I don’t think they paid me anything, but they might have. They took me out to dinner, which I thought was a big deal because on a farm growing up, you never ever went out to dinner.”
Through high school, Bohon participated in whatever theater or music was available to him, which, at a rural school, was not much. He performed in small scale productions themed to the like of “Herbie goes to the City” and “It’s Cold in them thar Hills.”
Although his high school may not have had huge opportunity for musical growth, Bohon continued to study and work, even finding time to take part in cheerleading.
[quote cite=”Bob Bohon”]Everything I did musically was because of my desires. Not somebody telling me this is what you need to be doing, and that’s bad and it’s good…I didn’t have the exposure to music and theatre and the arts that my kids did, it was just kind of what I liked doing.[/quote] What he liked doing drove him to the University of Missouri–Columbia, where he planned to be a part of the marching band and wind ensemble and jazz band and opera and vocal music. After a year in Marching Mizzou, however, his saxophone was stolen, and it was time to make a choice.
“My first voice teacher… She said, ‘OK, Bob… What’s your first love? Do you want to be up on the stage singing or do you want to be sitting in the orchestra pit?'” Bohon said, “and I chose to be on the stage.”
With all of his credits from freshman year alone, Bohon was certified in instrumental music, though what he really wanted to do was vocal. So by sophomore year, Bohon focused on what he now knew was his passion.
Throughout college, Bohon participated in regional theater productions at venues like the Arrow Rock Lyceum. Finally, he graduated, and not soon after, in the late seventies, became the second vocal music teacher at RBHS.
When he arrived at RBHS, there was no PAC. The choir room was in the basement, and students put on shows in the commons and the gym. Bohon’s first year, there were 16 people in chamber choir.
“When I left, the chamber choir was like 56. It really was not a chamber choir,” Bohon said. “It was another concert choir; in fact, it was maybe 10 people fewer than the concert choir.”
Through the ’70s and ’80s, Bohon directed musicals that performed on the gym stage and in the commons. One, he said, was even performed in between the cafeteria and the activities office. In the ’80s, the design of the PAC began.
“We asked for a lot more than what we ended up getting, which is the usual. We wanted about a 1,000 seats, 1,200 seats,” Bohon said, “but the problem was it was approved four years [earlier] than what it actually was built, and when they got ready to build it, they still didn’t build any more than what the money they’d approved four years earlier, so the same couple million dollars wouldn’t build as much when we finally got around to building it.”
Once the PAC was built, Bohon didn’t waste any time in utilizing his new resources. He used the entire stage all the way back to the scene shop for some shows. For 42nd Street and Grease, he used real cars on stage. For Grease, the ’57 Chevy Bel Aire they used belonged to a local doctor, who, to protect the car, had the man who took care of it for him, drive it instead of any of the kids. The first time they drove it on stage, however, the car blew a piston.
An old yearbook photo of Bohon with some of his students in front of that year’s show choir set
“We had a meeting with the architect in talking about building the new fine arts wing, when we had, like, band and choir and stuff, and the architect was there and I said, ‘Oh it’s great, great space, blah blah blah, thank you for the work’,” Bohon said, “and I said ‘Yeah, we even drove a car on there in 42nd Street!’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Uh, Bob, that stage floor was really not designed to hold that kind of weight…’ And I go, ‘Whoops, it did; it was good!'”
Around the time he was nearly crushing the stage, though, Bohon had a new idea for a fun extracurricular. In the early 1990s, Bohon brought show choir to RBHS and began an institution. For a couple years it was all for fun, and students didn’t compete, but as soon as they did, the performing arts department began to establish itself outside of the school.
With 15 people, one short of their usual roster, as one member had an appendicitis, they went to Iowa for their first show choir competition. Their combo consisted of a drum set, a saxophone and Bohon on keyboard. With no riser choreography, they won best vocals.
“People, literally, when we started going back to our home room, came rushing out of our room, and they’d run to our home room,” Bohon said, “because they wanted to grab a piece of green and gold crepe paper or balloon to get souvenirs of Rock Bridge’s choir.”
Thus started a legacy in show choir, and in his time, the program expanded from the mixed show choir, City Lights, to include a women’s show choir, Satin n’ Lace, and a men’s show choir, Green Machine.
A couple years after show choir began, Bohon’s children began to come through RBHS. His son, Justin, graduated in 1996, and his daughter, Melissa, in 1999. Bohon continued to grow the department, taking it from a small musical and choir, to the full scale theatre, tech and choir program that exists today.
“It seems like everybody was involved in some kind of music or band or singing, like, back in the day,” Melissa said. “That’s what you did. You had an extracurricular item, usually in the arts somewhere.”
In 2004, Bohon retired after 27 years of teaching. Through his teaching career, Bohon continued to perform in local theatre during the summer, but in retirement, he decided to pursue acting professionally, and moved straight to New York.
“I was in New York for two weeks and I got hired to do, to play Scrooge in Scrooge in concert,” Bohon said, “I’ve played Scrooge twice and I’m not a Scrooge type.”
bob bohonHe has also performed in the national tour of Sweeney Todd as the Beadle, and Indonesian tour of Phantom of the Opera (not the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway version), has played not only Scrooge, but also the Ghost of Christmas Present and Fezziwig in various productions and much more.
He manages to come home to Columbia, though, where his wife resides, and now his daughter has moved back home. Recently, Melissa Webel (whose professional name remains Melissa Bohon) and Bob Bohon directed Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein at CEC together.
After spending years revolutionizing theatre for his high school students, Bohon now prefers to take the stage himself, and it’s right where he always wanted to be.[/tab] [tab title=”Melissa”]
An old yearbook photo of Melissa, in RBHS’s production of Hello Dolly!
During Bob Bohon’s tenure, a lot of talented students came through RBHS, such as Chris Campbell, the new executive director for the Missouri Symphony Orchestra, or Robin Riley, Miss Missouri 1987 and certified Lucille Ball impersonator, and two who happened to be his own children. Bob’s daughter, Melissa Webel, graduated in 1999, taking her experience in Columbia to New York and across the nation.
“I do have the first picture of Justin and I, in our first show together… My brother and me at the Maplewood Barn Theatre in our first production of The King and I” she said. “I don’t know how how I was, but I was probably about seven.”
Throughout her childhood, Webel participated in shows at Maplewood Barn, CEC and Arrow Rock Lyceum, where she played such roles as Amaryllis in The Music Man, Little Orphan Annie and Hellen Keller in The Miracle Worker.
Not only did she perform some of the most well-known roles written for young girls in theatre, but she often performed then with her family. Her father, Bob Bohon, played the Daddy Warbucks to her Annie, and in The Music Man, Bob Bohon played Harold Hill, Justin Bohon played Tommy, Janie Bohon, her mother, was in the ensemble, and Melissa Bohon played Amaryllis.
“When I was 14, doing To Kill a Mockingbird one of the actors asked me, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?'” Webel said, “And I was like, ‘I was thinkin’ about this,’ and he told me I should, and just kind of getting that reinforcement was really what set my mind to, OK, this is what I wanted to do.”
By the time Webel got to RBHS, she was fairly experienced in her field, even having performed in a RBHS school musical while she was a freshman at Jefferson Junior High School because she could tap dance. So through her three years at RBHS, Webel worked even further on her talent, participating in show choir and the musicals directed by her father.
After her sophomore year, however, Webel auditioned for summer stock theatre. That summer,, she traveled to Galveston, Texas to participate in their repertoire of Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma, and Damn Yankees.
“[It] was hilarious, by the way, ‘cause I looked like I was 14, if that,” Webel said, “singing about my husband and how six months out of the year he lives by the television set for ‘Damn Yankees’.”
Every summer she did different shows, always finding time to perform at the Arrow Rock Lyceum, and continued to participate at RBHS. When it came time for her to graduate, Webel planned to follow in her brother’s footsteps and attend the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
“We were so nervous about her desire to do that because. ..So seldom do they ever accept a sibling after they’ve already had one in the family,” Bob Bohon said, “and this was her only choice.”
An old yearbook photo of Melissa rehearsing to audition for state choir
Webel only auditioned for the Cincinnati Conservatory. There was no other option in her mind.
“If I couldn’t get into college, then I was ready for New York,” she said.
In a case that has only happened maybe once before, she was accepted as the second member of the Bohon family to attend.
After completing her degree in musical theater, Webel decided it was time for her to move to New York. Within her first week she booked a job. Not long later, she was cast in the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof as an understudy for three of the daughters because she looked so young.
“Corey, my husband, proposed to me on that stage at the end of the run,” Webel said.
So after two leaves of absences from Fiddler, a proposal and a wedding, the newly dubbed Melissa Webel, found herself in Delaware, where her husband was in graduate school. It was when she was living there that she was offered a role in Wicked in Chicago. Having just been married, she turned it down to spend time with her husband.
But a year later, she was offered the first national tour, and with her husband’s job in a place where he could come and visit often, she took it. Webel cites the tour as the most fun time in her theatrical life so far.
For a year, Webel traveled with Wicked, understudying Glinda and when she finally returned to Delaware, the work dried up.
“I was, like, kinda hitting this weird space and wasn’t getting anything, wasn’t getting anything, and then we moved back to New York, New Jersey, but New York, and I thought, ‘Well, this is it. This is it. I’m gonna do one more show and then were gonna start having a family,” Webel said, “never got it, never got it, little stuff, readings, you know, little recordings, little things like that, but nothing, couldn’t land a show.”
So they started a family with daughter Emma Grace.
It was while Webel was living in New Jersey that she began directing some community productions, the Miracle Worker, a show she performed herself, being one of them. Soon, her husband landed a job at MIZZOU and as she was getting ready to come back, she had an idea.
MJB reduced headshot“We saw CEC was doing Frankenstein, and I just love the music and the show,” Webel said, “and I asked dad, I was like, ‘If I applied for this, would you do it with me?’ ‘cause I could not do it with anyone other than him.”
Webel has been directing and coaching throughout town since. Although it’s not where she ever pictured herself, Webel finds herself thoroughly enjoying teaching.
“It’s really interesting how much I enjoy it, how much I love directing,” Webel said, “I do miss performing, but how fulfilling it is, actually to be the director and see this product…to see how far people come to create this massive production…is really cool, but it’s just not where I thought I would be.”
Webel and her husband recently welcomed a second child, son Harrison.
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