Column: Seniors write and direct a two-hour musical for fun

Four older people in the region prove age is just a number – or 18 numbers, to be exact.

They wrote a two-hour musical with 18 songs that will hit the stage for a one-night performance on November 17th.

Newcomers to the theater range from 76 to 91-year-old music maestro Elliott Tarson, a retired Illinois businessman.

They met while attending group drama sessions at UC San Diego’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and their friendship and collaboration continued from there.

In Illinois, Tarson had run an industrial cleaning company, but for years he had composed music for an annual amateur production for charity. Ilene Hubbs, 78, is the former CEO of the local Make-A-Wish foundation. Reed Sullivan, 76, is a retired career naval officer, and Jeff Earnest, 77, has worked as a university librarian.

About six years ago, the friends discussed creating an original show.

After several brainstorming sessions, the quartet agreed on a subject that has touched their entire lives: aging.

They focused on residents of an upscale senior residence complex writing and directing a musical to prove that life exists after retirement. It was known territory. “We started writing about our lives and the lives of people we know,” says Hubbs, the lead writer.

The game’s theme in the game is called “Something in the Stash” but could easily be captioned “Life and Love in an Elderly Community”. Hubbs had recently visited a friend in North Carolina living in an adult resort community called Carolina Preserve. She was intrigued by the pun: “You are well preserved at the reserve. “)

The plot twists mimic those of real life: an evolving romance between a hesitant widow and a widower ready to love again; a husband whose loyalty to his wife with Alzheimer’s disease conflicts with his growing attraction to a friend; characters who think they’re hot – but aren’t, and a litany of health issues. In fact, a popular performance piece trumpets the side effects of the drugs which are worse than the disease.

Julie Eisenhower and Brian Castle co-star in one show, “Something in Preserve” – a musical by older people about the lives of older people.

(Courtesy photo)

A fictional actor suffers from a heart attack and is forced to give up the play. In real life, one choir member died as production progressed.

In 2017, and again in 2018, a workshop version of the play was presented in a UCSD classroom. Critics have been requested.

“It was very well accepted by the audience and we were encouraged to develop the show to present it on the professional stage,” Tarson reports. The rewrites therefore continued.

The pandemic slowed them down and canceled a performance scheduled for 2020, but the creative sessions continued on Zoom. Rehearsals were held in private homes and in the Chabad of Pacific Beach with volunteer actors and singers recruited through auditions and their theater connections.

Courtney Flanagan, retired drama program director at Bishop’s School in La Jolla, was hired to direct the play and design the set. “Without it, we couldn’t have done it,” says Hubbs.

This production team faced some hurdles that don’t stand in the way of most creative endeavors. At least three cast members have had knee replacements, including Tarson. “There is no dancing in this show,” he laughs. “It would be dangerous. Memorizing lines also posed difficulties for some.

The employees’ six-year labor of love has finally paid off. David Ellenstein, artistic director of the North Coast Repertory Theater lends them the Solana Beach stage for an evening.

“I saw the show in its previous version five or six years ago, and they continued to work on it,” said Ellenstein, noting that this production does not use professional actors and is not part of the programming of the season North Coast Rep.

“Elliott is a great guy (and a North Coast Rep fan) and I’m happy that is happening for them. “

A second performance is slated for Nov. 21 at a luxury seniors’ residence known as Vi in La Jolla Village, home to Linda Webb, one of the 16 cast members.

Amateur actors are thrilled to benefit from the North County Rep’s professional lighting and sound system, as well as the ambiance of their stage and seating.

“Our hope is that one of the local theaters can pick it up and play it professionally,” Tarson said.

“For me,” says Hubbs, “that was the completion of the process – writing an entire piece of music. We did it. We fleshed out those characters over six years and came out with a product that we are really proud.

The biggest takeaway, Tarson notes, is that this production is more than just a show.

“I am old and have had health problems lately. This group takes care of me like my own children. In fact, he thinks of many creators and considers his children. After all, he has a 66-year-old son.

“It’s the people who come together and are there for each other that are great.” Hubbs agrees, “We’re like friends and family now.”

Tarson emphasizes the in-game message of the game: “Life doesn’t end when you’re a senior. There is still a lot you can do to make your life valuable.

As for Tarson? “The big question for me is, ‘What should I do next? “”