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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Musical comedy ‘Tuning In’ coming to E.J. Thomas

8/1/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Pamela Myers and Alfred Anderson star in The University of Akron’s (UA) production of “Tuning In,” which will run Aug. 8-10 at UA’s E.J. Thomas Hall.
Photo courtesy of The University of Akron
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The musical comedy “Tuning In,” which will be performed Aug. 8-10 at the Stage Door of The University of Akron’s (UA) E.J. Thomas Hall, is the result of a dreamy and complex collaboration of artistic partners.

The story is based on a true situation, according to show officials. A retirement community in Southern Ohio, the Maple Knoll Village, besides taking care of its residents’ health and social cares, had (and still has) a nostalgia radio station that is dedicated to playing (and sometimes broadcasting local performances of) music for the residents.

At some point, the owners had to deal with budget issues, and one of the first cuts to be made was the radio station. The residents, with the help of some area university students who helped run the station, joined forces. They appealed to their listeners and other sympathetic ears and found sufficient funds to carry on.

The musical came about with the collaboration of Emmy-nominated composer and lyricist Larry Kass, who runs his own nostalgia radio program and who was familiar with the story, and co-librettist Ron Newell. They, along with UA’s pool of talent and Broadway-experienced music conductor Terry LaBolt and Tony nominated, Emmy award-winning director and choreographer George Pinney were able to create the musical. Kass wrote the music and lyrics, and Kass and Newell wrote the book. Pinney serves as director and choreographer and LaBolt as musical director.

At recent rehearsals, it was a remarkable experience to watch as Pinney brought the realization of Kass and Newell’s vision to life. The librettists had the idea to make the fictional retirement community one where old song-and-dance men and women went to live out their lives (there are actually such places, Kass said, for stage and movie actors). Torch singers, recording artist stars, cabaret singers, vaudeville headliners — they are all there — and, as Kass said, he and Newell have given the characters who represent these different areas of music history and performance their moment at center stage.

That’s what happens for the characters of Vicky (Pamela Myers), Stanley (Alfred Anderson) and Ruby (Don Farrell). Their stories represent a repeated theme in this play — relationships and lost chances, which interacts with a larger theme of nostalgia and actual memories.

Stanley (who is a radio announcer for the nostalgia station) was the conductor for Vicky, the old chanteuse and recording star. As luck has it, they meet again at the retirement home in the midst of this crisis. Old memories click, as do old passions. Saving the station takes on special meaning to them.

For Ruby, who was a vaudeville headliner, this is more his last chance than lost one. He is a crusty character and hard to get along with. For him, as Farrell said in an interview and as his character said onstage, if he “can’t make it here, he has nowhere else to go.” Saving the station for him is akin to saving his life.

Pinney is very cognizant of bringing out these emotional subtleties of character. He said he pretends he is the character, then thinks of “what action” or choreographic move he can give the actor to reveal the internal drama.

The setting for the show will be more intimate. Neil Sapeinza, associate dean at UA, said audience members will enter by the stage door and be seated on the actual stage facing the house.

Pinney’s idea of the set is to play it “in the round” somewhat. Audience members will be close to the performers.

Performances are Aug. 8 at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 10 at 2:30 and 8 p.m.

Advance-sale tickets for all four performances are $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors, $10 for groups of 10 or more and non-UA students, and free for UA students. Tickets at the door cost $20.

Tickets for a Red Carpet Party on opening night, Aug. 8, are $75. Red Carpet Party attendees will have access to an open bar and hors d’oeuvres at 6:30 p.m., VIP seating for the premiere performance at 7:30 p.m., a program listing and a “Tuning In” commemorative gift. Proceeds from the Red Carpet Party will support scholarships for UA students in music, dance and theater.

Tickets are available at the Thomas Hall Ticket Office at 330-972-7570.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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