Southgate at Shrewsbury presents anniversary show
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – The 23rd anniversary of Southgate at Shrewsbury was celebrated Nov. 9 and 10 as residents ranging in age from 70 to 96 presented “The Colgate Comedy Hour starring Abbott & Costello” in the facility’s 200-seat venue, the Flanagan Theater. The musical-comedy revue was written and directed by Deanna Swan, the program director of the independent retirement community.
This was the fourth year Swan organized an anniversary show. She based the previous year’s productions on “I Love Lucy,” “The Honeymooners” and “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.”
“I keep it in a genre that all the residents are familiar with – radio or early television,” she explained. “I researched a lot of different shows from the golden age of television, looking for a comedy duo I could use with a variety-show format. ‘The Colgate Comedy Hour’ had the format I needed with Abbott and Costello doing their shtick in between acts.”
It was Southgate’s state-of-the art theater that attracted Swan to the position of program director nearly seven years ago. She started working professionally in a theater company at age 16, and earned an associate degree in drama therapy. Her continued studies in drama therapy focused on geriatrics.
“I was working in New York, and I heard there was a wonderful retirement community with a 200-seat theater,” Swan said. “My interest was already piqued with the geriatric programming, but to also have a theater was wonderful.”
She had enjoyed performing with touring companies in New England, so she felt comfortable moving from New York.
“I was so lucky to be working in the theater, but you get to a place in your life where you want to make a difference,” she said. “I want to know that what I do makes an impact on somebody for the better. To me, this opportunity was golden.”
Auditions for this year’s show were held in mid-August. Rehearsals began soon after.
“We rehearsed two times a week for a couple of hours, which helps their attention span to grow when they’re engaged for two hours or more,” Swan said. “Doing the show challenges them in a lot of different ways.”
At times, the show was also a challenge for Swan as a writer. At this year’s auditions, a resident told her she loves playing the kazoo and has a collection of them. Swan wrote a comedic skit incorporating the resident’s unique talent and her assortment of kazoos.
“I tell them they all can be involved and do anything they want,” Swan said. “You can come in and do plate spinning, if that’s your thing. We’ll make it work.”
Opening the show were residents Jim Peden as Bud Abbott and Chuck Warren as Lou Costello, performing a revised version of the duo’s classic routine, “Who’s on First?”
A men’s chorus donned sequined top hats, bow ties and vests to croon the show tune “Razzle Dazzle” from “Chicago.” A women’s chorus appeared comfy in pajamas, bathrobes and slippers while singing “Mr. Sandman.” Several solos and duets were also presented. Production numbers featured tap, ballroom and line dancing.
Swan recalled her favorite memory of rehearsing the show.
“When we were done running the finale, they looked at me and I said, ‘We’ve got a show!’” she relayed. “Their faces just beamed. It was like sunshine from one end of the stage to other. It gave me goose bumps.”
Each year, Swan composes a song parody for the show’s finale. This year, she chose the theme song from “Cabaret” and rewrote the lyrics: “I made my mind up; I’ll go first rate. When I move, I’m moving to Southgate!”
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