Standing 6'3" tall and weighing 230 pounds, Glen Lamb likes to do things in a big way, especially when it comes to romance.
With a supporting cast of more than a thousand persons, from unsuspecting theatergoers to a producer playing Cupid, Lamb proposed marriage to Cheryl Szmuriga on the stage of the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
A stunned Szmuriga, ordinarily emotional, remained composed long enough to say a soft "Yes." The tears came later and then, the laughter.
Yesterday, a delighted Szmuriga expressed amusement - and amazement - at her intended bridegroom's extravagant proposal. "I didn't have a clue. He's not a showy person," she declared. "He's definitely a man of commitment, and he's very lovable. Now I know he's surprising, too."
For his part, Lamb proposed with a flourish. "This is way out of character for me. Usually I don't like to speak among a lot of people," Lamb said. "But I wasn't nervous and I didn't stutter."
What he did was to don a yellow slicker like the rest of the "Singin' in the Rain" cast, put on a microphone and stride to center stage after the show's curtain call. Then he greeted a shocked Szmuriga, who had been brought on stage by producer Angelo Del Rossi.
Lamb got down on bended knee - to an audience ovation - and uttered those immortal words: "I love you. Would you marry me?"
"She said 'Yes,'" he remarked happily. "It was low, but I heard it."
The Paper Mill donated a bouquet of red roses: a traditional gift for a leading lady. Folks congratulated the couple. "It was like a reception line at a wedding," marveled Lamb. The couple plans to wed next October.
Staging a marriage proposal was a playhouse first. At Lamb's request, producer Del Rossi arranged the event as an unexpected encore to "Singin' in the Rain."
"I wanted to do something special," averred Lamb, "and I thought the Paper Mill Playhouse would be unique."
At show's end Lamb slipped out of his seat under the pretext of getting a drink of water. He had brought an impressive prop: an engagement ring composed of a sapphire surrounded by diamonds. Beth Judge of East Brunswick, a friend of Szmuriga, made the ring.
Michael Gruber, who acted romantic leading man Don Lockwood, paraphrased a few apt lyrics: "You were meant for him. And he was meant for you."
Gruber was pleased to play a pivotal part in the post-show drama. During his Cincinnati boyhood, he sang at parish weddings coupled with Catholic masses. But he never dreamed of serenading a public proposal on stage.
"It was a great idea. How nice the theater allowed it," the actor commented. "It's particularly charming that the playhouse is such an important part of the community that it can say to the public: 'This is your theater'."
The unflappable Lamb, a soft-spoken but self-assured suitor, was surprised no one else ever had staged a marriage proposal at Paper Mill. He considered proposing to Szmuriga at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, an idea he got from the film "Sleepless In Seattle." He abandoned that notion
because of Szmuriga's fear of heights.
Originally Lamb meant the ring as a gift for Szmuriga's 30th birthday on Sept. 4, but he delayed for the sake of a more dramatic gesture. When Lamb asked Szmuriga if she wanted to see a Broadway show for her birthday, she said "I'd rather see 'Singin' in the Rain' at the Paper Mill Playhouse."
That was Lamb's cue. For the auspicious occasion Wednesday night, producer Del Rossi gave the couple highly prized "house seats" near the stage. Szmuriga was unsuspecting, since the couple planned to attend the show with some of
Lamb's Prudential colleagues.
"It was a wonderful show," Lamb said. "The rain was unbelievable." During Gruber's splashy solo to the title tune, Szmuriga quipped to Lamb: "I'd love to be up there playing." Little did she know her stage debut was imminent.
The two met 17 months ago via an ad Lamb placed in the Personal Connections column of The Star-Ledger. "I used to deliver The Ledger as a little kid," he noted.
Lamb good-naturedly characterized meeting people through personal ads as "a lot of work." For a year or so, he published a few ads in the newspaper and estimated he spoke to 40 or 50 women before he found "the right gal." That was Szmuriga, who answered his ad in June 1993.
Their first date was a good omen. They saw a show at Villagers Theatre in Franklin Township. It was "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
For the past eight years, the 34-year-old Lamb has been a marketing systems analyst for Prudential. He lives and works in Roseland. Szmuriga of Highland Park is a graphics designer for Warner-Lambert Company in Morris Plains.