Abby Lebs looked forward to enjoying the musical “Oliver!” with her family and friends to celebrate her 14th birthday on Thursday.
But she was in for a big surprise when she walked through the doors of Vive Les Arts Theatre — a backstage tour and a video of her father, 1st Lt. Eric Lebs, wishing her happy birthday from Afghanistan.
When Abby took her seat minutes before the show, a familiar face appeared on the big screen.
“I would like to give special birthday wishes to my oldest daughter,” said Lebs, who is deployed with the 311th Sustainment Command. “Abby, from the day you were born you’ve been a delight to your mom and I, and it’s been great to see you grow and mature over the years, but more importantly it’s been wonderful to see your walk with God grow.”
The 30-second clip ended with Dad saying, “I love you” in sign language.
“I was really happy and surprised,” Abby said. “It made me cry but it was good.”
She said she speaks with her father often via Skype and telephone.
Kim Lebs, Abby’s mother, told her husband about their birthday plans for the day and he took the rest from there, she said.
“He took it upon himself to call the theater and get it all arranged and made the video.”
Eric Lebs deployed in August and the family looks forward to his return this fall.
“A lot of people around here knows what it’s like … it’s hard and we miss him every day but God gets us through it,” she said. “But that (message) is pretty much in character with him because he is really sweet with our three girls and he likes doing surprises.”
The theater received the call from Afghanistan two weeks ago as cast and crew prepared for Friday night’s opening of “Oliver!,” said Kelly Herremans, administrative assistant for the theater, who worked with Eric Lebs to accommodate the long-distance request.
“It was about two weeks of emails back and forth,” Herremans said. “We were excited about making this day special, as we are a live stage performance theater who tries to enrich the community with culture and bring crowd-pleasing shows.”
Audience members were impressed with the birthday greeting and Thursday night’s show, which was a special pre-opening day performance for military families.
“They’ve done fantastic plays and we love to be part of good and uplifting entertainment,” said Sandy Lundell of Copperas Cove. “I thought that was really touching, especially for the teenager who is missing her dad on her birthday.”
The big surprise left Abby wiping tears from her eyes before the show.
“It made it really special,” she said. “Thanks, Dad, I really appreciate it.”