Fabulous Fifty+ a show of camaraderie, talent

Friendly auditions held for production about old-time radio

December 15, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN REPORTER

There were bright lights, a big stage and nervous singers, but the applause from fellow auditioners and encouraging remarks from the director were signs this week that The Fabulous Fifty+ Players doesn't hold typical tryouts.

"You feel like you are among friends," said Vera Bastin of Columbia, who arrived dressed in purple to sing "Mona Lisa," which was made famous by Nat King Cole. "I think I need to feel like they're not going to put me down or laugh at me. They're very welcoming."

Everyone is welcome at the theater troupe for people older than 50, organized by the Howard County Arts Council. Auditions were really a chance for director Harriet Lynn to see what each performer could do and to start drawing out ideas to include in the script.

This year it is "kind of a mix and match show," about the golden age of radio, Lynn said.

In addition to songs, shows and commercials from the era, Lynn said she would like to use some memories from the cast themselves.

"I want to see how we can incorporate some of these stories, so it becomes more personal," she said.

To that end, auditions included an exercise in which every person was asked to share a memory related to the heyday of radio.

Some of the actors fondly recalled shows like Fibber McGee and Molly, Our Miss Brooks and The Shadow.

One man remembered sneaking backstage and hanging out with the Andrews Sisters when they were performing at the Hippodrome. A woman recalled her brother coming home from the military and taking her to see Peggy Lee.

"I want them to feel this is their company," Lynn said. "I feel that seniors bring a lot of depth and life experiences."

The company began in 2000, when Lynn and music director Phyllis Stanley put together a collection of songs from the turn of the 20th century, in part to save money on royalty fees.

The group went on to do one show each year, including scripted revues of composers Kurt Weill and Cole Porter, and one Broadway show titled 70, Girls, 70.

Lynn, who has had a long professional career in musical theater, has led other community theater groups and runs the Heritage Theatre Artists' Consortium, said her role is to find the right place for everyone. That includes roles backstage, in the chorus and in the spotlight.

"We try to choose shows that have a lot of room," she said. "We try to give everyone at least some moment to call their own."

Irene Patton, 85, of Columbia, has been with the players since their first production. The former Social Security Administration employee arrived with lots of experience in community theater and years of voice training. She currently appears in local commercials for Carmax as a skateboarding granny.

She said the Players are particularly attractive for her this year, since she recently began needing a cane to move around and the group is willing to work with such issues.

"I'm saying joking, but serious, if you hear of any drunk parts or anything where I'm confined to a wheelchair, think of Irene," she said. "I love performing, you see, and [Players] is a chance for me to perform, especially now, because I don't think I can audition for other things because I'm so limited physically."

This year, Patton said, she was pleased to see some "young people" in their 50s arrive for auditions.

One of those, Roy Babacow, 51, sang "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," for his audition, although he was a little young to have memories of radio days.

Babacow said that after an eight-year break, an easier commute from Pasadena to a job as a business analyst with the American Chemical Society in Washington has made it possible to return to acting. He has been taking voice lessons and recently appeared in a show at the Greenbelt Arts Center.

He said he is looking for ways to let people in the theater community see what he can do.

"Talent-wise you may fit the roles but you don't look it. This is an outlet that's exclusive to seniors," Babacow said.

Bastin, who will admit only that she qualifies for the over-50 group, agreed that the camaraderie is part of the appeal.

She took acting classes several times before she moved to Columbia in 2004. Her husband died shortly after their arrival, and she said the theater group "gave me an outlet of meeting people and doing what I like to do.

"I think they're such a neat bunch of people," Bastin said. "After you work with them, it begins to feel like family."

The Fabulous Fifty+ Players will perform April 20, 21 and 27 through 29 at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City. Information: 410-313-2787.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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