Show 'popped' with marriage proposal

Staff Writer,
Abilene Reporter-News
Feb. 28, 2000

With hundreds of minor details to keep track of - and hundreds of students as well - Phyllis Wilson didn't need any more hurdles to oversee in the staging of the annual, all-school Sing Song at Abilene Christian University last week.

Then again, all other matters pale alongside a properly sincere, presumably divine proposal of marriage.

That's right. Before all memory of Bible Lectureship slips away, someone should mention that, during final performance of Sing Song, John Gilson, 21, a senior music education major from Houston, dropped on one knee before an audience of thousands to propose to Tara Wilfong, a junior music education major from Sugar Land.

As Phyllis knew full well, that one touch - an almost complete surprise to Tara - would ensure the 2000 edition of Sing Song would never be forgotten by anyone in Moody Coliseum.

What's more, this proposal rang truer than that of the couple in the spotlight of "How to Marry a Multimillionaire."

The ACU couple, who have known each other for about two years, were serving as host and hostess of a segment in the mammoth production. However, when they were to do an introduction for the next act of the show, John varied his routine from the previous shows, began singing "Marry Me" from the musical "The Rink," then made the proposal on bent knee.

"Well, it didn't take me long to figure out what he was asking," Tara said later. "I was shocked. Surprised. Not mad, but surprised. I mean, I thought we were supposed to be announcing the next act!"

Actually, Tara doesn't have too much to be surprised about except for the timing.

"We knew that we were going to get married, but I told him I really didn't want to talk too much about it," the engaging 20-year-old student said. "I wanted to be surprised. I didn't want to know before he popped the question. You know, you've got to have some surprise in your life."

With that in mind, John dutifully approached Phyllis, Sing Song director, with a request that somehow - he wasn't exactly sure how - he be allowed to pop the question to his beloved during some moment of the final show. Initially, Phyllis had her doubts about trying to work it into the production but then figured how could she stand in the way of true love.

"When I first cast the show, I didn't even know they were dating, but it soon became obvious," Phyllis recalled. "And then, over Christmas break, John called and asked about it. And I said, 'Let me think about it.' I mean, something like this can be potential dynamite. It can be real sweet or else it can blow up in your face.

"But I decided that if I wanted the show to be unforgettable, that would sure make it so."

And, after all, the theme of this year's show was "Unforgettable."

Pop's blessing?

Phyllis suggested John vary his dialogue during the fifth act, shortly after intermission, so as to suddenly break into the song "Marry Me," with John altering the first few lyrics to fit the occasion. John initially got "cold feet" about the idea - not proposing but singing the song - but eventually decided it was the best course, she said.

Everyone was pretty sure Tara wouldn't turn John down on the spot, based on the fact she'd asked him, some months ago, to pop the question whenever he decided best. However, Tara insists she had no idea John might propose to her during the huge, meticulously mounted production of Sing Song.

She did get a hint of it, however, that very weekend.

"The night before somebody came up and said something to me while my family and I were at Denny's, but that was the first I heard anything about it," Tara said. "This friend came up and said, 'Hey, I hear you're going to be engaged.' Well, later, when I came home and told my roommates, they said, 'Oh, that's just the dumbest thing we've ever heard.'"

Of course, roommates Charity Curbo, Kari Bibb and Randi Lindquist were in on it. So were the love birds' families. And most of the cast and crew of Sing Song.

In any case, it proved an unforgettable moment for Sing Song's Saturday night audience, some of whom initially thought the proposal was just part of the show. Certainly, it seemed to offer some of the wit and humor to be found in the rest of the production.

"The whole cast of Sing Song was glued to the television monitor backstage, just as everyone in the coliseum was glued to the stage," Phyllis said.

"And when John got to where he finally made his proposal and asked Tara to marry him, she said: 'Have you asked my dad?'"

Happily, Pop had already given his blessing to John's quite public "popping" of the question. And the show went on.

Bill Whitaker, who understands the couple has yet to set a date, can be reached at 676-6732 or

Copyright ©2000, Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications


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