The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Aug 02, 2013

Turn out for “Tuning In” at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall

Posted by rdurbin

Logo, "Tuning In." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron

A musical in the making. That’s what’s going on at The University of Akron, as artists and students there collaborate with some stellar and visionary partners.

The musical comedy “Tuning In” is being developed – from the ground up – for its historic opening for a limited engagement next week.

The basic story is based on a true situation, where a retirement community in southern Ohio, which had (and still has) a nostalgia radio station run by residents and local university students, join forces to save the station from being lopped from the budget.

Emmy-nominated composer Larry Kass, along with co-librettist Ron Newell, are enhancing the situation by fictionalizing the setting as a retirement home for old radio performers, vaudevillians, torch singers, hoofers and the like. Since they performed on the radio station, they each had a particular reason for wanting to keep the thing going.

Clockwise from ul: Terry LaBolt, Larry Kass, George Pinney, Ron Newell, creative team for "Tuning In." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Clockwise from top left: Terry LaBolt, Larry Kass, George Pinney and Ron Newell, the creative team for "Tuning In." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron

As played by Akron-area singer Alfred Anderson, the character of Stanley (who is a radio announcer for the nostalgia station) was the conductor for Vicky (played by Tony Award-nominee Pamela Myers), an 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 place takes on special meaning to them.

Pamela Myers and Alfred Anderson, in "Tuning In." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Pamela Myers and Alfred Anderson in "Tuning In." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron

For Ruby (played by Don Farrell), who was a vaudeville headliner, this is more his last chance than a 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 says onstage, if he “can’t make it here, he has nowhere else to go.”

The songs and lyrics that Kass and Newell give them speak clearly to the internal strife and passions that course through the characters.

Rounding out the 21-member cast are eight Equity actors and actresses, along with several local area talents and eight music and dance university students. University musicians will also fill out the orchestra that will provide live music – something nearly unheard of these days in big theatrical productions. Broadway musical conductor Terry LaBolt is musical director.

Cast members, "Tuning In." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron The cast of "Tuning In." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron

At recent rehearsals, it was a remarkable experience to watch as Tony Award-winning and Emmy-nominated choreographer George Pinney, who is directing this production, brought the story to life. What a tough job. His is to visualize and find ways to tell the score and book written by other people. Fortunately, as he noted in an interview, the artistic partners, as well as everyone involved, were extremely easy to work with.

The production will be on the stage of E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall. Neil Sapeinza, associate dean at UA, said in an interview that 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 “in the round” somewhat. All seats will have a great sight line, for Pinney pays incredible attention to that detail in his direction.

“Tuning In” will run August 8-10 at the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall, 198 Hill St., Akron; 330-972-7570; Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 8; 8 p.m. on Friday, August 9; and 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 10. Tickets are $10-$20 (free for UA students).

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