In this delightful new musical, Charissa, a quirky, twenty-something actress, meets Milton, a quick-witted, eighty-something millionaire who loves Schubert, Shakespeare and Dallas BBQ. From a chance encounter to the unlikeliest of friendships, Charissa discovers there’s much she can learn from her surprising new companion. Based on the true story of the performer Charissa Bertels, My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend reveals the thrill of chasing a dream, the power of living in the now, and all that can happen when we let ourselves say “yes.”
In cooperation with the Arizona Theatre Company, Sean Daniels, Artistic Director.
starting at $17 - $53
105 minutes, No Intermission
Executive DirectorKappy Kilburn
Artistic DirectorKevin Moore & Emily N. Wells
Directed by Sean Daniels
Music Director/Pianist Brett Ryback
Scenic Designer Neil Patel
Costume Designer Jen Caprio
Original Lighting Designer Brian Lilienthal
Human Race Lighting Designer John Rensel
Sound Designer Danny Erdberg
Associate Sound Designer Alexander Koker
Assistant Director Ashlee Wasmund
Production Stage Manager Dom Ruggiero *
Creative Producer Tara Lail
Originally produced by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Sean Daniels, Artistic Director Elizabeth Kegley, Executive Director
“My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend”
was produced by Arizona Theatre Company, Tucson/Phoenix, Arizona
Sean Daniels, Artistic Director, Geri Wright, Managing Director
Time: The Present
Place: New York City
CHARISSA BERTELS is a Broadway actress and champion of new musicals. She has performed on Broadway and at Madison Square Garden in A Christmas Story and toured the country in the first national tour of If/Then, starring Idina Menzel, La Chanze, and Anthony Rapp. As a member of the singing ensemble for New York City Center Encores’ productions of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Lady Be Good, her work can be heard on the subsequent cast recordings, featuring Megan Hilty and the legendary Tommy Tune.
Charissa received rave reviews for starring in her original one-woman musical, My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre (IRNE award for Best Solo Performance), and will reprise her role for Arizona Theatre Company in the fall of 2021. Her newest collaboration, The Uncivil Ones, features unheard female, non-binary, and BIPOC voices from the American Civil War and garnered the 2019 Special Mention for the Women in Arts & Media Coalition Collaboration Award.
In addition to her own writing and producing projects, she is currently a professor at New York Film Academy’s Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre, an MFA candidate through the University of Idaho, and a proud member of Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA. www.charissa.nyc
Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), founded in 1913, represents more than 49,000 actors and stage managers in the United States. Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions, providing a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans. AEA is a member of the AFL-CIO, and is affiliated with FIA, an international organization of performing arts unions. The Equity emblem is our mark of excellence. www.actorsequity.org
Jen’s Costume Designs include: Broadway: Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. National/International: Falsettos, Joseph…, The Lion (West End/US Tour), …Spelling Bee (US Tours) and Rockumentary and Kaleidoscope for Celebrity Cruise Lines. New York: City Center Encores!, Audible/Minetta Lane, Second Stage, Manhattan Theatre Club, Roundabout, Primary Stages, Cherry Lane, LaMama, ETC and others. Regional: Over 150 LORT and Opera productions. TV: Falsettos (PBS Great Performances) Sesame Street (seasons 47-53), The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo (Seasons 1-2). 2019, 2020, & 2021 Daytime Emmy Nomination, 2020 Daytime Emmy Winner for Sesame Street. www.jencaprio.com
Sean is honored to be the Kasser Family Artistic Director at Arizona Theatre Company, where he first fell in love with theatre. He is an internationally known theater director, writer and Artistic Director, known for new work and innovative community based leadership. He’s been a NYTimes Critic Pick as a director and a writer. Sean has directed at Manhattan Theatre Club (The Lion, Drama Desk Award & Theatre World Award, nominated for Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle), 59e59 (NYC, I and You, nominated for Outer Critics Circle) Lynn Redgrave (NYC) The Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.), St. James (West End, London – The Lion, winner of Best New Musical), and at many wonderful regionals (Old Globe, ACT, Geffen, Cleveland Playhouse, Milwaukee Rep., Long Wharf, Alliance, and the Neo-Futurists in Chicago!). In addition Sean has been an Artistic Director at Merrimack Repertory and Dad’s Garage (which he co-founded), and an Associate Artistic Director at California Shakespeare Theatre and Actors Theatre of Louisville. Sean has been named “one of the top fifteen up & coming artists in the U.S., whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come” & “One Of 7 People Reshaping And Revitalizing The American Musical” by American Theatre magazine. As a playwright, his work has been produced in multiple theaters over the country including a Commerical Off-Broadway run of his sober dark comedy ‘The White Chip’ which was produced by Tony Award winner Tom Kirdahy. It is currently being adapted for a book and a movie. He’d love to hear from you.
Danny was thrilled to make his in-person Arizona debut as Sound Designer with My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend after designing and mixing the audio-drama version of The Heath. His work has been heard in New York at The Public Theater, Roundabout, City Center, Atlantic and 59E59. Regional credits include Arena Stage, Geva, Milwaukee Rep, The Geffen, ACT, Merrimack, Virginia Stage, and Long Wharf, as well as productions in Korea, Japan, China, Canada, and Cuba. Recent highlights include the world premieres of Stonewall (New York City Opera) and Jerry Herman: You I Like (92Y). Broadway associate design credits include The Iceman Cometh (Tony nomination), Significant Other, Violet, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Heiress and The Nance (Tony winner). Daniel is a professional member of IATSE, USA829, SDC, and the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. He is a graduate of Northwestern University and a former faculty member at Tisch/NYU.
Alex is a Wright State graduate of the Design and Technology program, with an emphasis in Sound Design. He has previously worked for Norwegian Cruise Lines before the pandemic, and is happy that theater has returned. He recently worked as Sound Engineer for The Revolutionists, Airness, Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Sound Design & Engineer for Who’s Holiday! and Everything That’s Beautiful at The Human Race Theatre Company. He is happy to be working on this production as Associate Sound Designer.
Arizona Theatre Company: My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend, Cabaret, The Clean House. Regional: Over 250 productions including 60 productions at Actors Theatre of Louisville (with 20 world premieres), Alley Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, Capital Rep, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cleveland Playhouse, GEVA Theatre Center, Gloucester Stage, Hartford Stage, The Huntington Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Milwaukee Rep, Pasadena Playhouse, Playmakers Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, over 30 productions at Trinity Repertory Company, among others. Mr. Lilienthal has designed operas for Long Beach Opera, Bard Summerscape, Portland Opera Repertory Theatre. He has won the Los Angeles Ovation Award for lightingdesign, as well as the 2016 Artistic Achievement Award from Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and has been nominated multiple times for Boston’s IRNE Award. He has spent 12 summers as the resident lighting designer for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. MFA: California Institute of the Arts. Mr. Lilienthal currently teaches lighting design at Tufts University. He lives in Somerville, MA, with his wife Emily, their daughter Eliza and dog, Babe, and is a drummer with a rockabilly/jump blues band that performs throughout New England.
Neil creates bold and unique worlds for Film, Television, Commercials, Music Videos, and Live Events. Recent projects include Twenty-One Pilots Livestream Experience, the Peabody Award-winning Dickinson (Apple TV+), The Path (HULU), Little Boxes (Netflix), Dil Dhadakne Do (Excel Entertainment), Some Velvet Morning (Tribeca Films), the Peabody Award-winning In Treatment (HBO), Time and the Conways (Broadway), Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1,2 & 3) (Royal Court London), Mughal E Azam (NCPA Mumbai and Delhi), Alcina (Washington National Opera), Norma (LA Opera), and Shadowland for Pilobolus throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Neil was born in Bangor Gwynedd Wales, studied architecture at Yale College, scenography at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan and lives in Manhattan with his wife theater director Maria Mileaf. Neil and Maria are the proud parents of Pia Mileaf-Patel and Emlyn Mileaf-Patel.
John is the long-term Resident Lighting Designer for The Human Race Theatre Company, Muse Machine, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Pops series, and the Dayton Opera Association. He also serves as the long-time Technical Director for the Fraze Pavilion and has provided advanced technical production coordination, lighting designs, automation programming, and performance operation services for many artists and productions that have visited that venue. John also has a diverse dance lighting background, having provided lighting designs and technical production services for many years to The Dayton Ballet and Dayton Contemporary Dance Co. John’s national credits include a lighting design package for a National Touring Production of the Elton John/Tim Rice collaboration Aida. Some of his most recent local credits include all the designs for The Human Race’s season at the Loft Theatre; Muse Machine’s productions at the Victoria Theatre and the Dayton Opera Association’s season at the Schuster Center. At 70, John just had his tonsils removed. Ouch!
Dom is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. Recently for Arizona Theatre Company as Stage Manager: The Royale, Cabaret, The Legend of Georgia McBride, My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend, Women in Jeopardy, Justice. Broadway PSM credits include The Gathering starring Hal Linden, Borscht Belt on Broadway starring Bruce Adler, Mal Z. Lawrence, and Ain’t That a Kick in the Head – the Music of Sammy Cahn directed by Chet Walker. 1st National Tours include: The Lion with Benjamin Scheuer (Directed by Sean Daniels), The Cole Porter Songbook starring Melba Moore, The Irving Berlin Songbook starring Carole Lawrence, Greeting! Shalom Aleichem Lives starring Judy Kaye, Bruce Adler and Theo Bikel. Regional credits include: Lost Laughs: the Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Man of LaMancha, Mame, The Drowsy Chaperone, Beauty & the Beast and Always Patsy Cline at The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton, FL among others. Dom has stage-managed across the US, Europe, South America and Australia with Ain’t Misbehavin, Phantom, Anything Goes, Song & Dance, West Side Story and countless other musical productions. Dom was born and raised in New York City and thanks his family for growing up so close to Broadway.
Brett is an actor, composer/lyricist, and writer. 1st National Tour: A Christmas Carol. Off-Broadway: Murder for Two. Regional: You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (Cincinnati Playhouse); History Boys (Ahmanson), Lieutenant of Inishmore (Mark Taper); Shrew!, The Prince of Atlantis, Dr. Cerberus (South Coast Rep); TV/Film: Hail, Caesar!, Modern Family, House, How I Met Your Mother. He’s a recipient of the ASCAP Foundation’s Cole Porter Award. Works include: “In Strange Woods: A Musical Podcast” (iHeartRadio Podcast Award nominee); Free Speech Zone (Austin Film Festival Playwriting Semifinalist); Passing Through (Goodspeed); and Nate the Great (Licensed by TRW). www.brettryback.com
Ashlee is a director, choreographer, and actor based in North Carolina. Recent: My 80 Year-Old Boyfriend (Arizona Theatre Company), H*tler’s Tasters (Off Broadway, New Light Theater Project) (‘Best of Fringe’, The Stage UK), This Wrestling Place (in development), A Ghost of Christmas Past (original radio drama). She serves as Program Director of Musical Theatre & Dance at Western Carolina University and is the Founding Artistic Lead of Calliope Stage Company as well as a Resident Artists with New Light Theater Project. ashleewasmund.com
Production Stage Manager
Health Resources Officer
Costume Shop Manager
is an internationally regarded multi-hyphenate artist and voice and expression expert. Oh-so-many years ago at The Human Race, he earned his first few Actors’ Equity points as an understudy on Alone Together and later went on to Assistant Music Direct Seussical and play Feste in Twelfth Night.
For his work as the librettist of My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend, he received the prestigious Kleban Award in Musical Theater, and he and his collaborators received an IRNE nomination for Best New Play. He is also a recipient of the BMI Jerry Harrington Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Songwriting and the Pearl Animation Studio Songwriting Artist Residency. His other works include X-MAS: A Merry Mutant Musical, Worlds Apart, The Girl Who Turned into a Feather, Reeling, Miss Mayor, and The Uncivil Ones. He has presented concert works at The Duplex, 54 Below, The Metropolitan Room, The Neon, Martin’s Off Madison, New Voices, and The Battersea Barge and has received commissions from theaters across the country, such as Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre and Seattle Shakespeare Company/Wooden-O. As an actor, he has been seen onstage at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Village Theatre, and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, among others. Over his career he’s been honored to collaborate with such luminary artists as Martin Charnin, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jerry Dixon, Caitlin Kinnunen, Shelly Burch, and Carolee Carmello.
A native of Kellogg, Idaho, Christian is an alumnus of DePaul University and Wright State University. He currently resides in Seattle where he is an active member of the Dramatists Guild of America, the Off-Broadway Alliance, VASTA, NATS, and Actors’ Equity Association. He is tremendously grateful to Kevin and The Human Race; best friend, Charissa, for entrusting him with her story; and his family and friends for their unwavering encouragement and support.
Ed Bell is a songwriter, author, music educator and entrepreneur. His creative work is mostly in theatre and film, where he co-wrote the 2018 Kleban Award-winning musical My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend which ran at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company before coming to The Human Race.
Ed was also previously an Artist in Residence at Pearl Studio (Abominable, Over the Moon) in Shanghai, China. As music director, Ed has worked on projects at the Signature Theatre, the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, Leeds Playhouse and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ed also created The Song Foundry, one of the Internet’s most popular songwriting resource sites, and is the author of seven popular books about songwriting, including the bestselling The Art of Songwriting. Ed is originally from Yorkshire in the UK. edbell.com
See cast bios.
Conceived and performed by Charissa Bertels
By Christian Duhamel (book and lyrics) and Ed Bell (music and lyrics)
It all started because Charissa Bertels took a chance.
After moving to New York to pursue her dreams of Broadway, Bertels did the thing that most aspiring actors (and really all artists) do: she got a day job. “My crappy actor side job was selling juice at grocery stores. Like you do,” Bertels explained. “I was on the Upper East Side selling juice on a cold November day. Nobody wants to try this juice because it is disgusting and I said to myself, ‘This is going to be a really long four-hour shift.” And then, she continues, an older gentleman stopped to talk and they began talking in ways she never expected, about Shakespeare, literature, and poetry – and when he invited her to his apartment across the street, she hesitated. She didn’t know him, she was new to New York and who even went to a stranger’s house anyway? Further, she had plans from which she did not want to detour:
I LEFT BEHIND SMALL TOWN NIGHTS
WITH ALL THEIR STARS AND MOON BEAMS.
I NEEDED BIG CITY LIGHTS
TO CHASE BIG CITY DREAMS.
A CITY GRID SO VAST
THAT FOLKS ARE ALWAYS ON THE RUN!
FACING THE GRIND ALONE
REMINDS ME I AM ONE …
JUST ONE IN A MILLION.
BUT WHEN YOU’RE ONE IN A MILLION …
THE ODDS ARE A MILLION TO ONE …
AND SINCE THAT’S THE CASE,
AND SINCE NEW YORK SETS THE PACE,
THERE’S ONLY ONE THING TO BE DONE.
What happened next forms the basis of My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend. She said “yes.” Charissa and “Milton” spent days together, talking more about the arts, the world around them, and the ways their lives were similar and the ways their lives diverged. And as her life unfolded, and her Broadway dreams became a reality (Bertels was in the original Broadway cast of A Christmas Story and toured the country in the first national tour of If/Then), she lost touch with the man with whom she had become friends – her 80-year-old boyfriend.
One of the things audiences don’t know about being an actor is the long, long days of waiting – waiting to audition, waiting to hear back, waiting for rehearsals to begin. Smart actors find ways to generate material to keep themselves active and artistically nimble, which is what Bertels did. She had kept reams of notes from her time with “Milton” and, when she had a moment to reflect, it was her friendship with him that she kept turning to.
Bertels enlisted her friend and writer Christian Duhamel (a recipient of the 2018 Kleban Award for most promising musical theater librettist and a Songwriting Artist in Residence with Pearl Studios), who took her stories and began to build a story. In turn Duhamel recruited UK native Ed Bell (an alumnus of Cambridge University, The Royal College of Music, and the prestigious BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop) to write the music.
Duhamel talked about My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend in terms of its origins. “My passion for the show came about because of my friendship with Charissa, and it was friendship that was at the core of the story.” He added that he had seen how Bertels’ life had changed as a result of her friendship and he wanted to capture that. The song “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend” distills the joy of their discovery:
WHEN I’M TOGETHER WITH YOU
I NEVER CAN GUESS JUST WHAT YOU’LL DO.
‘CAUSE YOU LIKE KEEPING ME ON MY TOES,
AND BOY, HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT FUN WILL ENSUE.
WHEN I’M TOGETHER WITH YOU,
WE ALWAYS KEEP TRUCKING,
BUCKING ALL THE TRENDS,
‘CAUSE WE HAVE SOMETHING THAT’S
STRANGE AND RARE.
THAT’S WHY WE’RE THE CRAZIEST PAIR,
THE LUCKIEST PAIR,
CRAZIEST PAIR OF FRIENDS!
The challenge in the development of the show came from all the things it wanted to be. Bell noted that “it wasn’t just a song cycle. It wasn’t just a cabaret, it really was everything you’d get in a musical but for just one actor and one pianist.”
As the material began to coalesce – and the pages of notes grew longer – a few key elements stood out: they decided that the show wanted to feature a variety of musical styles. Bertels, an inherently funny performer, wanted both “laughs and feels.” And all three agreed that the performer had to engage with the audience in a direct way, because they felt the core of the story was about making connections and that notion wanted to extend to the structure as well.
Another component to the structure of the piece is that Bertels plays all of the roles – 10 in total – challenging her to embody herself as a fictional character, but also “Milton,” a number of theater professionals and Milton’s former love. In inhabiting all of these roles, the audience is invited to experience a tour-de-force performance (see where and when she takes sips of water – they are all strategically planned) as well as a reflection: at any moment, we are all young, old, jaded, and innocent. Bertels brings all of these together.
In bringing a work from an idea to the polished work you see in front you, the artists involved have to remember two things: the initiating idea and the story they want to tell. For Bertels, Duhamel, and Bell, a key initiating idea was about intergenerational friendships. Think about the number of plays, television shows, or movies you see where people of mixed ages mingle – you can probably name a couple but one might argue that many feature the older person as being befuddled or inappropriate or out of touch. In the hands of this artistic team, we see a complex, three-dimensional “Milton” – one who is loved and admired by “Charissa.”
In those same examples, the younger person is usually reckless, unaware and silly. “Charissa” is none of those things; like “Milton,” she is complicated and honest – someone who is loved and admired by “Milton.”
Recognizing, really recognizing, the fact that these two people can find friendship – just by taking a chance – is the heartbeat of My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend.
And the story they want to tell? My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend reminds us that we need connections with each other, in real life. Bertels added that she “gets to share a message that really matters to me and put it out in the world – what matters is friendship. We don’t know how much time we have with the people we care about.”
Courtesy of the Arizona Theatre Company, Tucson & Phoenix, Arizona
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