ALONG WITH WISDOM, AGE BRINGS DETERMINATION

photo by Tim Fuller

Charissa Bertels takes energy to a whole new level in her solo performance to create "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend" at Arizona Theatre Company.

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.




SAPAC LOVES ITS "NUNSENSE"

photo by SAPAC

The ambitious Little Sisters of Hoboken will do almost anything to raise money for a worthy cause.

It's always fun to be reminded the habit-inducing “Nunsense” by Dan Goggin has become one of theater's most bulletproof comedies, poking good-natured fun at pridefully conservative nuns who only want what's guaranteed to be good for everybody.

Anyone who has gone to Catholic school will recognize all the show's jokes about the secret desires of those nuns, as well as their down-to-earth practicality when it comes to storing dead bodies in the church freezer, and the like.

Let it first be known that all five women in this Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company cast have lovely voices and energetic personalities, led by director/choreographer and actor (playing Sister Mary Amnesia), Samantha Cormier.

Wearing those three hats, as well as the traditional black and white dress of the cloistered Little Sisters of Hoboken, keeps Cormier jumping. Always up for the task, she also dons a pair of matching black lace-up tennis shoes with white soles.

There is no shortage of soul in this production, either. All of these Little Sisters on stage have a secret or two to tell, good for a surprise or a laugh...or both as their mock-horrific adventure in fund raising rolls out across the stage.

“Nunsense” does come with a very long story line to set-up, so don't arrive late to your seat. You see, there is a very good reason why the Little Sisters of Hoboken used to be a much larger order – 71 sisters, actually.

But in a most unfortunate accident, 52 of them died from food poisoning at the same time when their beloved Sister Julia, Child of God (ordinarily noted for her culinary skills) miscalculated the recipe for her vichyssoise.

Not only were there enormous funeral expenses to be raised but another miscalculation – this time in fund raising – ended up with the Little Sisters coming up a little short. They lacked sufficient cash to properly bury the final four deceased nuns.

That's where their natural thriftiness came in handy. While these doughty surviving Sisters got busy with another fund raiser to bury those last four, the deceased quartet was kept in the freezer in the basement.

It is this final drive for the dough that we get to see onstage, led in no uncertain terms by Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina (Jody Darling). With a firm hand and a strong voice, this Mother Superior personified the kind of no-nonsense whipped cream that can stand on its own.

Her duet with Sister Mary Hubert (Rachael Fornot), “Just A Coupl'a Sisters,” was pure delight. The resourceful entertainers also had some happy feet under those habits, some in toe shoes and others for tap dancing.

Cormier also has the pivotal comic moment in the second act, recalling her secular dreams, singing “I Could've Gone To Nashville.”

Sister Mary Robert Anne (Erin Anderson) and Sister Mary Leo (Dominique Ruffalo), with equally strong performances, complete the cast. The balance of talents within this quintet is remarkable.

So will there be a SAPAC sequel with these same five women singing, dancing and joking their way further into our hearts? We can only hope.

Performances of “Nunsense” continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday, at Desert View High School, 4101 E. Valencia. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 for students, teachers and military.

For further details, reservations and ticket purchases, as well as COVID-19 protocols, visit www.sapactucson.org or telephone 401-594-4895.