Bloomington audiences will be able to tune into a retirement home radio show with the musical “Tuning In.”
The musical, put on by the Bloomington Playwrights Project, runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 15. It follows the story of the senior citizens at Harmony Hill Retirement Community as their citizen-run radio station becomes a smash hit. When a business tycoon tries to take the station over, the retirees struggle to keep it alive.
Larry Kass wrote the music and lyrics for the show, which he said is based on the true story of the retirement community Maple Knoll Village’s radio station in Cincinnati. Kass ran a show of piano performances at the community called “Music for Midnight.” Kass sat down with the IDS to discuss “Tuning In” and his songwriting process. Answers have been edited for clarity.
Indiana Daily Student: Why are you bringing this show here to Bloomington?
LK: We’re here because of our connections to George Pinney, the iconic, incredible director, choreographer and former professor at IU. He’s now an independent and very much in-demand director and choreographer.
IDS: What has it been like to work with the BPP staff?
LK: It’s a thrill for any composer-lyricist to work with people like George and the BPP staff because they’re stage magicians. They have a way of bringing paper to stage, bringing the printed word to the stage and making these songs and characters come alive in a way that I’ve never experienced in all my years of doing music.
IDS: How would you describe the vibe of the music of “Tuning In?”
LK: There are songs that encompass all kinds of musical styles, including songs you would have heard in a big night club in the 40s or songs from vaudeville. There are other songs of hope and encouragement. There’s songs that are big show tunes, love songs, songs of regret, songs of elation, rapturous songs. I wrote eight new songs to add to the songs that were already there, and some songs dropped along the way. One of the new songs is really an Italian aria, and I think really will be a crowd pleaser.
IDS: What’s the importance of hearing the perspectives of these older characters?
LK: There’s a lot of merit in hearing what the old-timers have to say and what it was like for them when television started or radio began or talking pictures. It’s a part of our combined experience and what makes us who we are. Part of the main messages in “Tuning In” is that these old folks have lots to tell us, lots of stories, lots of personal experiences that add to the luster and the enrichment of our own lives, and we can never push them into a corner and say we don’t want to hear about it because something great will be lost in our heritage. We have to talk to these people, hear what they did, and preserve that for future generations.
IDS: So you said the cast ranges in age from 17 to over 60. Have you seen the older and younger actors learning from one another, like their characters did?
LK: The actors who play the students came in with, I think, an open mind that this was going to be a different kind of experience. The message got through to them, I think. The older actors have helped mentor the younger ones and help them gain confidence on stage. And the young actors, I think, are giving the older actors a renewed sense of self-worth, that they’re not just fossils sitting in a rocking chair waiting to die.
IDS: What do you hope audience members will be able to take away from seeing this musical?
LK: I hope the audience will remember one or more songs that will buzz around in their heads and be catchy enough to grab them. The other thing, I hope the message comes through, that idea of passing along heritage from one generation to the next, as well as the wonderful relationships that can develop between older and younger individuals.
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