Jerry Hardwick refuses to be put out to pasture.
In Ken Merrell’s new musical comedy, “Pasture-ized,” Hardwick (played by Les Asplund) is a former Broadway producer who is forced into retirement following a heart attack, prompting him to relocate from New York to Whidbey Island.
His son, Chad (Quynn Jackson Stirling), is adamant that his father lead a tranquil life, and suggests that he move into Hazel Brook, an assisted living facility.
“I don’t want to live in your pre-casket, no matter how finely it’s decorated,” Hardwick responds.
Instead, the determinedly active Hardwick purchases an old church, converting it into a community theater where romance and comedy ensue.
The show is the final installment of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island’s 2014-15 Music Series.
An original piece written and directed by Merrell with music composed by Eileen Soskin, the show will premiere at 7:30 p.m. April 10 and will continue with 7:30 p.m. showings April 11, 17 and 18 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island in Freeland.
“The play is about people that, for one reason or another, think their lives are over and that turns out not to be true,” said Merrell.
Soskin, who comes from an extensive classical music background, said working on the musical is a dream she didn’t know she had.
Though it is her first time composing music for a theatrical production, Soskin said she has not encountered any challenges, and has enjoyed each step of the process thanks largely to the cast.
“Music is music. It conveys our life experiences,” said Soskin.
The show contains a medley of heartfelt and comedic songs, several of which deal with subjects such as family relations and the unique struggles associated with different life stages.
“The songs could stand alongside anything on Broadway,” said Asplund.
He added that the writing is “very smart and witty.”
Merrell started conceptualizing the show about a year ago, and began writing the script in October.
The script, he said, is largely influenced by the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, iconic dance partners who worked together on 10 films between 1933 and 1949 including “Follow the Fleet” and “Swing Time.”
Ginny McMath, a local music teacher played by Gretchen d’Armand, lends her assistance while Chad attempts to sabotage his father’s efforts in order to “save his dad from himself.”
Chad changes his tune upon meeting McMath’s daughter, Kat (Callen Barrett). Romance and intrigue ensue as the characters attempt to reinvent themselves following being “put out to pasture,” or “pasture-ized.”
Rich Doyle plays the role of Jack Jackson, the church’s caretaker; Sandy Welch plays real estate agent Linda Keene; and Cheryl Lawrence plays McMath’s rival, Jean Maitland.
“This is all original and all Whidbey,” said Soskin, adding that the Music Series is an important avenue for the congregation to contribute to the South Whidbey community.
Merrell, who has worked for over 30 years in theater and comedy, noted that the play was in part inspired by his own life experiences as well as those of neighbors and friends on the island.
“We put people out to pasture,” said Merrell. “We still have stuff to contribute, us old folks.”
Tickets cost $15, or $5 for students, and are available online at firstname.lastname@example.org, at Moonraker Books in Langley or at Habitat for Humanity in Freeland (cash or check only). Tickets are also available at the door.
All of the concerts are fundraisers for the church and its associated activities and events.