The power of the mind to create its own magic comes bubbling up from the heart of Charissa Bertels' solo performance in the Arizona Theatre Company's production of “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend,” with Sean Daniels directing.
Commanding the stage for 90 minutes playing 10 separate roles, Bertels creates several sorts of energy packing in layers of determination, happiness and despair to take us on her cherished arc of understanding as she learns the ropes breaking into New York theater and along the way becoming particularly fond of 80-year-old millionaire Milton, whose upper east side apartment has a breathtaking view of Manhattan.
But it isn't the story that Bertels tells us, so much as it is the way she tells it. An actor of enormous enthusiasm, she carefully crafts each role, shapes each character in a hundred different ways, although she is the only actor on stage, she makes each person distinctly different. Particularly the roles of herself and the elderly, rascally Milton.
Bertels' own story is the usual one of an unknown talent hoping to make it on Broadway, going to endless rounds of auditions, getting an occasional call-back and, finally, being picked for the Broadway and Madison Square Garden production of “A Christmas Story.”
That break led her to other roles, including the first national tour of “If/Then” as well as a teaching position at the New York Film Academy's Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre.
It was during the time of endless auditions that Bertels kept her rent paid by being a sidewalk hawker selling bottles of a soft drink concoction she called “monkey juice.”
That's when she met Milton, who spotted her freelance merchandising efforts from his apartment building across the street. He came down to the pavement and offered to buy her entire daily supply of monkey juice if she would just talk to him for awhile.
Of course she said “No.” But we are in Manhattan and Milton is a persistent New Yorker (is there any other kind?). So after another song or two Bertels is singing about that skyline view from inside Milton's apartment. Why not, what can happen? After all, he is 80 years old.
The lesson we learn is that, hey, you never know what can happen. It might even be something good, if you just take a chance on life. So we are treated to one endearing moment after another as Milton's quarrelsome wisdom cuts through Bertels' resistance. Although he is scarcely a charmer, he does have that certain something she likes.
What we like, sitting in the audience is how easily Bertels creates this sense of wonder all by herself. Milton's voice is always a little deeper, a little hoarse, very New York. As Bertels' own confidence grows, taking audition after audition, it is easy enough to accept when she creates a duet sung by both Milton and herself.
The ATC audience, completely convinced, bursts out with instant applause.
“My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend” is a musical, after all, with 15 songs on the program. That duet, “Together With You,” is listed number seven. Playing the piano accompaniment from an elevated position at the back of the stage is formally attired Jose C. Simbulan.
The show is still being considered a work in progress. Sean Daniels, ATC's own artistic director, also directed its world premiere in 2017 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Daniels announced from the Tucson stage on opening night that an off-Broadway production is scheduled to open Nov. 29, 2022.
Getting credit for the book and lyrics is Christian Duhamel. The music and additional lyrics are by Ed Bell. Both are working from the solo concept conceived by Bertels.
“My 80-year-old Boyfriend” continues through Oct. 16, with performances Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., plus 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays-Sundays, in the downtown Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.
Tickets are $40-$73. For further details, reservations and the latest COVID protocol, visit arizonatheatre.org or telephone 520-622-2823.