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The Story That Almost Wasn't

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

The "other side" of playwright Jim Gadzik, shown here removing a toxic megacolon from a patient in septic shock.

Excerpted from the Wall Street Theater's recent press release:

"The writing of Magic reflects an odyssey as interesting as the story itself. Truth be told, the playwright, at the onset of his career, had no intention of becoming a playwright at all.

From the moment Jim Gadzik entered medical school in 1972, he knew acute care surgery would be his chosen path. Acute care surgeons are the doctors who greet you at the emergency room door when you are rushed in by ambulance actively bleeding and barely conscious with a rapid pulse and low blood pressure. With little or no background information provided about you, they have 3 or 4 minutes to determine what is wrong with you and how to fix it. If they fail, you die. If they succeed, you survive, but never fully whole and not until lots of pain has been inflicted during the resuscitative process. They see the worst of the worst, from shootings, stabbings and car accidents to traumatic amputations, eviscerations and flesh-eating bacterial wounds. You name it, they deal with it on a daily basis, with scenes as graphic as any in Saving Private Ryan.

During Dr Jim’s surgical training, he received excellent instruction on how to treat trauma. Unfortunately, he and fellow-trainees were never taught how to cope with it emotionally. As was made painfully obvious during the recent pandemic, daily scenes of bad things happening to good people, lives cut short, dreams demolished, families devastated, all take an emotional toll. Back in 1970’s, there was little mention of PTSD, little recognition that trauma could traumatize the very people who were treating it. Acute care personnel were tacitly expected to “suck it up and carry on.” Anything less than this was considered a sign of weakness. It’s a small wonder that of all professions, medicine has the highest suicide rate.

In 1983, Dr Gadzik accepted a surgical position at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, CT, where he still maintains active privileges. For years, Dr G lived in a world of surgical theaters, rarely having time to set foot in a thespian one. But as the years passed, something curious began to happen. Dr G started setting poems to music. The word “curious” is used because Dr G lacked any formal musical background and never considered himself musically inclined. Entirely self-taught, he would transcribe musical tunes that popped into his head onto a computer software template. The computer would then play the melody back to him. The process was incremental. His initial efforts were far from ambitious, such as Wordsworth’s short poem, Daffodils, but eventually Dr G was tackling lengthier works such as Fitzgerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Eventually, he graduated to full length musicals … librettos, lyrics, songs and all. Bye and bye, Dr G penned Magic – A Ballroom Musical.

When dramaturg Cate Cammarata asked Dr G why he wrote the musical, his response was, “I didn’t know any better. And, besides, the people who should have tried to stop me, didn’t.”

On the surface, the question seemed innocent enough, but Dr G, upon reflection, realized that his flippant response was an attempt to evade a grim reality. The question gnawed at him and forced him to do some soul-searching. He had to confront the fact that his stressful, high-octane, 100 hour-a-week life as an acute care surgeon, with its 30 to 40 hour shifts, was exacting an emotional toll. Musical theater was providing an escape, a safe haven. For a few blissful hours a day, usually between 3 and 6 AM, Dr G could write stories with happy endings, where people lived to a ripe old age, and where dreams come true, a complete foil to the horrific scenes of his profession.

Dr Gadzik’s sister, Pam, died at the age of 29 of cancer. Her husband, Bob, died a few years later in an auto accident. Their love was cut tragically short. But in Magic, the characters of Pam and Bob come together in ever-lasting love, as if etched on one of Keats’ Grecian Urns. That is the magic of the arts.

In 2019, Dr G completed Magic, but the demands of his job forced him “to put the project on the backburner.” And Magic might have remained untouched to this day were it not for a fateful text Dr G received in February 2019. His friend, Mike, an anesthesiologist with whom Dr G had “come up the ranks,” wrote: “Bad news, Jim. I have stage 4 pancreatic cancer.” For the next several months, Dr G and Dr Mike communicated frequently. Mike encouraged his friend to pursue his dreams before it was too late, as it now was for him. Dr G took the message to heart. When his friend passed away six months later, Dr G stepped down from the Trauma Service at Norwalk Hospital, shifting to a more tranquil, office-based elective surgical practice specializing in open, non-mesh hernia repair. With free time on his hands, Dr G began to pursue his theatrical dreams and the Magic project was resurrected. A theater in Bridgeport agreed to produce Magic in December 2020. Then the pandemic hit. Magic was derailed not only in 2020 but also in 2021 for pandemic-related reasons.

But hope springs eternal and the show must go on. 2022 will be a better year."

We shall make Magic happen on November 26, 2022.

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