South Whidbey residents have the opportunity to savor the sounds of yesteryear with “FRED & GINGER – NO DANCING,” an original musical by Freeland resident Ken Merrell that opens Thursday.
Merrell tells the tale of a couple living on Whidbey Island through different stages of their lives.
Audiences can experience the love of a somewhat mismatched pair falling in love to falling apart and back again.
It’s a story that shows how universal this love story is, Merrell said.
“Boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back – it’s something we’re all familiar with,” he said.
The musical features three sets of actors playing the same couple moving through life as newlyweds, portrayed by Melanie Lowey and Ken Stephens; empty nesters, Kirstie Bingham and Rich Doyle; and an estranged couple, Gretchen d’Armand and Les Asplund.
Music enthusiasts will enjoy songs from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals in the 1930s and 1940s.
The story revolves around real estate and is guided by the couple’s agent, played by Sandy Welch. The real estate agent aids the couple in buying their first house, putting it back on the market and revisiting it 15 years later. The musical also includes several localized jokes and references about island life.
Merrell, who is also the director, chose to have such a strong emphasis on the home and real estate agent because it is a constant part of life.
“There are thousands of houses on Whidbey Island,” he said. “And thousands of stories.”
Merrell was inspired by the music for this story. He describes the music as infectious and said it was fun to watch the cast interpret the material.
Eileen Soskin, music director, said one of the biggest challenges of putting the musical together was figuring out which songs to use. Soskin and Merrell worked together to narrow down a large list into categories for each couple ranging from love songs to songs of marital discord. From there, Merrell wove a plot.
“There were so many beautiful songs from the ’30s I’m happy to say we were able to (use),” she said.
The music is a familiar tune for d’Armand, who plays Ginger in the estranged age. She enjoys bringing her classical music background to the mix. Growing up to these songs, d’Armand said she never thought she would be performing them on stage.
“I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to play these parts until my next life, but this is a lot of fun.”
Her act includes many “juicy and flirty” songs such as “Stormy Weather” and “You’re An Old Smoothie.”
One of her favorite moments in the play is when the estranged Fred, played by Asplund, finishes the song “I’m Old Fashioned” and the two share a moment of tenderness that leads to their getting back together, she added.
Soskin said the music coupled with the storyline is “very sweet ... and very powerful.” Each song is given a speaking introduction that sets the mood for the actor.
“One of the most endearing things is … we’re giving them (the songs) context,” Soskin said.
Sing along with Fred and Ginger
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, through Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island, 20103 Highway 525, Freeland.
Tickets are available at the door for $15 and $5 for students.