Tributes pour in for George Wilkins Jr., the Playhouse’s musical soul for many years

George Wilkins Jr.

Tributes poured in from friends, family and the wandering nation when the musical theater world learned that George Wilkins Jr. had passed away at the age of 74.

Carol McKendrick Wilkins shared the news of her husband’s death on Facebook on Thanksgiving Day. “My Georgie is gone,” she said. He died shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday at his home, she said.

From the Flat Rock Playhouse to Broadway and beyond, artists who have performed, sang and danced over the decades of Wilkins-led shows at the Playhouse have paid tribute, praising his mentorship, humor, and skills as a musician and conductor. show.

Besides Carol, he is survived by a son, Christopher; brothers Bobby Wilkins and Jimmy Wilkins, and one sister, Virginia Wilkins. Her younger sister, Wendy, a beloved Playhouse singer and actress, died of cancer in 1999 in her thirties.

Bobby Wilkins said the family expected to announce a tribute to the life of his older brother at a later date.

A prodigy at a young age, George Wilkins was portrayed as a boy in a Life magazine article about children with extraordinarily high IQs. The photo accompanying the article showed George playing the piano.

“He was the church organist in St. John in the Wilderness when he was 15,” Bobby said. “I remember it because my parents had to take her there.”

At vacation meetings, George would walk into the room and blow up games of Trivial Pursuit because he knew all the answers, Bobby recalls.

Fran Shelton, a neighbor and friend for years, said the community has lost a major contributor to the rich performing arts history in Hendersonville and Flat Rock.

“I thought George was the most amazing musician Hendersonville had ever produced,” said Shelton, who as longtime band principal at Hendersonville High School has trained many talented musicians. “That’s how much respect I had for his musicality. There was no one better. This city produced a lot of great musicians. For me he was the premier and I always wanted to be like him. I yearned to be at his musical level. He was just such an inspiration. “

Shelton had a family bond with George even before they bonded around music. His mother taught at Bruce Drysdale Elementary School, where George’s father was principal. He became her mentor before she was old enough to drive.

“I played in the orchestras they had at the Playhouse, so that’s how I got to know him,” she said. “George would come get me and we would go play this playhouse stuff.”

A graduate in French at UNC, Wilkins was admired not only for his virtuoso piano playing, but also for his sense of humor and his ability, as actress and singer Amy Jones cracked it, “to use the ‘f-word’ like a pro.

“Oh, yeah,” Shelton said of her well-known blue streak. “Sometimes I would count how many times he used it per sentence and I would just say, ‘George, I’m so impressed.'”

Shelton, George and Carol, George’s younger brother Bobby, the principal of Hendersonville High School, and most recently his other brother, Jimmy, all live within a block of each other in Lower Laurel Park.

“Every time he trained for these (Broadway musicals) you could hear him around the house playing Chopin or Mozart,” Shelton said. When she asked him why, Wilkins told her he always performed the classical masters to warm up for Broadway sheet music.

“We would sit on her porch and talk about music,” she said. “He was so much fun as a neighbor.”

Lisa K. Bryant, the artistic and creative director of the Playhouse, has known Wilkins since the early 1990s, when she was an apprentice at the Playhouse at 18 and he became “one of my first cheerleaders. in the world of professional theater “.

“My God, I don’t know how to talk about George Wilkins,” she said. “He was his own definition of a person. He was a noun, he was a verb, he was a curse. He was certainly brilliant. He was a prodigy when he was a kid. He loved music and he loved musicians and he loved the theater his soul was that of an artist and when you are in a partnership like this where you are artist to artist and artist heart to artist heart it’s just that kind of “other” connection. He loved working with people and he loved people who loved him as much as he did, and when you find yourself, it’s just natural. “

Wilkins’ dedication to quality and his determination to make the best shows that can be passed on to the musicians and singers he has conducted.

“The musicians loved him,” said Bryant. “They still love him and still miss him today – his ability to connect with them. He was magical in the music he made and the way he felt it. It’s not just about playing. the notes in front of him, he feels the notes. “

When she announced her husband’s death, Carol Wilkins invited the Wanderers to “share your funny stories about her”.

They shared funny and poignant stories.

“During rehearsals for ‘Taffeta’ there was a harmony that I was struggling to achieve,” recalls Amy Jones, a close friend and longtime Playhouse actress. “He would play until this point, then stop, look at me and wait until I could ‘hear’ the chord in my mind and sing the note. He intuitively understood how I THINKED. I didn’t. never missed this harmony again. “

“George was the smartest person I’ve ever met. And the funniest,” Jones added. “He was my mentor, my friend and the big brother I never had.”

“We love you George,” wrote on Facebook Chase Brock, a Hendersonville native and former Playhouse YouTheatre student who owns and runs a nationally recognized dance company in New York City. “Thank you for so many wonderful memories and so much confidence in me over the thirty years that I have known you. Hope you and Wendy have come together and are laughing and doing some music and shenanigans already. “

“I loved George,” wrote Erin Mosher, a Broadway singer who performed at the Playhouse for several years. “I loved playing and singing with him. He always made me laugh and felt so supported and elated in every musical performance we did together. I loved him and our time together.… Truly an amazing human being. and one of a kind. “

“Two huge influences are gone for me this week,” Dan Gibson said. “Stephen Sondheim, who I obviously didn’t know, is one of the main reasons I fell in love with theater and writing.… At the Flat Rock Playhouse for 5 seasons. I could write for hours on how which he shaped me, and I’m sorry if you can’t do the same. “