Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving with Morrie

Play based on inspiring novel is a humorous and touching way to burn off post-Turkey Day malaise

Express Staff Writer

“A Good Year” Danny Marona assumes the role of the elder statesman in the wildly popular book by Mitch Albom, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” at nexStage Theatre on Thanksgiving weekend. Express photo by Willy Cook

    A professional entertainer in the music and comedy fields for more than five decades, Danny Marona has captivated audiences from California to Idaho, including a couple of seasons in Las Vegas. But it’s during his version of retirement that he’s been able to grasp that which always eluded him—acting.
    “As a kid, I memorized Bob Newhart routines and I used to make my family sit down and listen. I have a real sense of whether I’m getting a polite laugh or if it’s genuine,” he said from his perch on the edge of the stage where, on Nov. 23 and 24, he will assume the role he’s most enjoyed to date—Morrie in “Tuesdays With Morrie,” the blockbuster book written by Mitch Albom that had readers reflecting on how they were living their lives. “I’ve had my face on billboards, sung with the San Francisco Boys Choir, been Entertainer of the Year 12 times, but this, this, I have enjoyed every bit as much and more than anything I’ve ever done. If I were only going to do one more play, let this be it.”
    Marona started young, singing with the choir until he was 14 and his voice gave out. He transitioned to comedy and playing piano, building a successful career clowning around. He was in Jackpot, Nev., in 1990 telling his wife, Sherry, to get him out of town as soon as possible when he took a break between shows and played a round of golf at the Twin Falls Blue Lakes course. He decided to settle there simply because “it’s peaceful and calm, not like California.”
    He credits his wife with being the glue that kept everything together so he could explore all the aspects of what would become his multidimensional life. It’s obvious that she has no need for the spotlight. During an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, she sat in a car parked in front of the nexStage Theatre.
    “She’s immeasurably responsible for me,” Marona says. “She holds me up when I need to be and back when I need to be. I’m just the goofball who goes out on stage.”
     Marona officially retired in 2007, but he maintained a full schedule teaching, making appearances as a motivational speaker or as master of ceremonies at Twin Falls programs. He also founded the Danny Marona Performing Arts Scholarship Fund, for which students perform a talent before a live audience and a panel of judges—just another creative outlet for a man of many talents. Students line up to sign up each year, with acts from acting to sword swallowing.
    “We don’t have any illusions that they’re all going be on Broadway, but one former winner is studying entertainment law at Yale,” he says with pride.  
    His association with James Haycock, Twin Falls High’s drama teacher, helped him take a swing at acting, which began with him as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and has led to Morrie, which he performed in Twin Falls and Pocatello this summer.
    Marona says he’s found from previous shows that most of the audience has read the book.
    “No matter who shows up, I guarantee 50 percent will have read it,” he says.
    Director Penni Aufderheide has kept him on his toes with Morrie.
    “It’s nice to be able to say at my age, ‘I didn’t know that,’” Marona says with a laugh. “She brings out things in the script that never occurred to me.”
    But having struggled with being a father, a mentor and overcoming illness, it had him reflecting on how to be better at handling it all.
    “It’s the first script I ever read where I told my wife, ‘I’ve got to stop crying,’” he recalls, his gnarled hands resting on his lap. “Morrie has a way of interpreting life that reaches everyone. He has some issues that are devastating not only to his wife, but to his counterpart, Mitch. It was cathartic for me because I’ve been going through a lot of health problems, and every time I read it I find a new lesson for coping. Anyone can find something, 8 to 80.”
    The play will make a fine way to cap a Thanksgiving weekend.
    “After you’ve caught up with everyone in the family, and you’ve talked about everyone behind their backs and you’re looking for something to do, this is it,” Marona says.
    He says the 90-minute play “runs the gamut of emotions, pathos, sardonic wit.”
    He says that what’s inspiring is the way Morrie leads Mitch to his own transformation not by preaching to him, but by sharing with him.
    “Most of us who feel like we have something to share learn that rather than try and change another human being, the best we can do is to let our light shine.”

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