Some seniors travel when they retire. Some play golf, some take up a hobby but some fulfill childhood dreams they have been too busy – or lacking self-confidence – to attempt during earlier years.
Tacoma Musical Playhouse offers a stunning outlet for closeted senior hams with their Young at Heart Players.
This is a troupe of retirees, most of whom have taken a many-years hiatus from their dream of treading the boards to make their living at various professions. Some are theatrical neophytes, some are retired teachers, some are performers who don’t want the hectic rehearsal schedule or pressure of a full-run theatrical production, which takes upwards of 150 hours of rehearsal and performance time, not to mention time at home spent learning lines, songs and dances. Some just want to have the thrill of hearing audience applause for them!
The Young at Heart Players is their place. This senior thespian group does one show a year which plays only three performances thus allowing the members to return to their retirement duties with a smile on their lips and the knowledge that their dream was fulfilled.
This year, TMP’s Players mount a heartfelt production of “Godspell,” based on the gospels of Matthew and Luke as told by playwright John Michael Tebelak and composer/lyrist Stephen Schwartz.
Tebelak has gathered Jesus plus 10 disciples to whom He explains many of His parables as cited in the writings of two of His followers.
The action takes place at a hall where the 10 gather for a reunion. However, after they arrive, they are greeted with the voice of God, who implants in each the idea of persona changes to help Jesus with the telling of His story.
The abstract set is designed by Bruce Haasl. It consists of various colored blocks which are movable to form different locales, and a bridge of steps, which has an archway beneath it allowing an addition acting area. On the wall behind the bridge is a huge portrait of the head which symbolizes the play; this was expertly painted by Dennis Kurtz, who constructed the set.
Director Julie Halpin does a wonderful job of putting the production together. She has given a special spotlight to her charges so that each has his or her moment in the sun of this shining production. In a deft bit of business, when John starts to baptize the disciples, three lengths of blue fabric are held and fluttered by six cast members, denoting the river; each takes turns walking between the material to John for his blessing.
Musical Director Debbie Hushagen leads the 3-pierce combo including herself on keyboard, Jim Hushagen with guitar and Iris McBride doing percussions. Director Hushagen also beautifully sings one of the final songs in the show, “On the Willows.”
Choreographer Alexandria Scamehorn does a nice job with most of the numbers; she brings out the talent of her line. However, some of the hand movements which accompany several of the songs are identical for each cast member, making them redundant.
The cast is amazing! These flexible seniors are all about the stage, climbing steps, bending, stooping, crawling, jumping and dancing – but most of all, having a ball!
Norm Aune appears as Jesus. Aune plays him quietly with dignity oozing love and compassion. He has quite a nice singing voice.
Malcolm J. West has a brief scene as John the Baptist and gives a commanding performance as the announcer of the coming of the messiah. West also plays Judas, shifting his character from good to evil with the drop of a parable.
Aune and West have a captivating moment when singing “All for the Best” along with a cane and top hat soft-shoe dance.
Nan Gillis is Jane; Gillis adds a touch of grace to the production as the diminutive lady makes herself seen in the melee of actors.
Karen Onstad is Peggy; Onstad plays her shy and quiet when she timidly questions Jesus but the singer easily hold her own with the rest of the crowd
Susan Hendricks plays Robin; she is one of the better singers whose impressive voice can be heard a bit above the rest when all let go.
Leslie Watts is Gilmer. Her rendition of one of the better know songs in the show, “Day by Day,” is done with a good voice and tear-in-the-eye feelings.
Shelia Bennett gives Joanne a lively voice which defies being overcome by others and there is no reason to do so – it’s pleasing in soft tunes as well as the jazzy numbers.
Bill Siems is a tall, gangly Lamar. As with most of the followers, he is quiet at first, but shows his knack with comedy and good singing as the play progresses.
Doug Ernst plays Jeffery; his special of “We Beseech Thee” is beautifully performed.
Curt Beech is Herb, the clown of the followers. Beech is a good actor who is limber and funny and sings well.
Nadine Baxter is Sonia. Baxter comes closer to owning this production than the rest of the disciples when she belts out “Turn Back O Man” in a Red Hot Mama style; the singer/dancer has the audience in stitches.
In a word, the whole cast has got it all together to offer the audiences almost two hours of pure joy.
“Godspell” continues its excruciatingly short run of two days more – Saturday and Sunday June 28 and 29 at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, both performances are 2 p.m. matinees.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
See this enjoyable, compelling production of “Godspell” and you’ll see the proof that, as one blue-eyed senior once sang, “Fairytales can come true, it could happen to you if you’re Young at Heart.”