The world premiere of “A Jukebox for The Algonquin” by Paul Stroili is currently running at the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea through September 2. It has been met with full houses and raving audience reviews, making people of all ages laugh — while confronting some serious topics.
“Johnny” in “A Jukebox for the Algonquin”
Wallace Bridges has been involved in theatre since he was about 15 years old and played Tom Robinson in a high school production of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
He has been a professor at Eastern Michigan University, since 1992. He plays “Johnny” in “A Jukebox for the Algonquin.”
“The play takes place in an upstate New York senior retirement center, in which a group of residents, led by Johnny, apply unique tactics in pursuit of acquiring a jukebox for the Algonquin Room of their retirement center,” Bridges said.
To audition for the role, Bridges was sent a few pages of the script and then participated in a Zoom audition. He said he made vital connections between himself and the character and the dialogue of the play.
“More importantly, I believe I also made more personal connections to the dialogue in the audition side which led to a powerful audition — even through Zoom,” Bridges said.
But Bridges believes there are connections everyone can make with this play.
“Since the play is a serious comedy, audiences should see it for a lot of laughs,” Bridges said.
Bridges also believes he is perfect for the role of Johnny.
“I’m not saying I was typecast, I am not from the Bronx, but Johnny is very much like me in several ways,” Bridges said. “He loves rhythm and blues music from the 1970s and so do I. He was married to his wife for 48 years, and my wife and I have been married that long. He has little patience and gets ‘crotchety’ when things don’t work the way he wants. Johnny has experienced loss of family members, and, unfortunately, I can relate to that several times over. And, he enjoys spending time with his small group of friends, like I do.”
Bridges added that he feels fortunate to be working with a very talented, collaborative, and supportive group of actors, crew members and leadership.
“This experience has been one of the most positive creative working environments I have ever experienced,” Bridges said. “My approach is to deal with challenges with a positive attitude and that has worked well with this production”
And there is another Eastern Michigan University connection as well.
“I am especially honored to work with my Eastern Michigan University Theatre colleague, John Seibert who plays Denny in ‘A Jukebox for the Algonquin.’ I have known John for nearly three decades and have been looking forward to acting onstage with him,” Bridges said. “Denny is Johnny’s best friend in the play and I have grown closer to John through this experience. Also, I have to say that I have grown as an actor through my interactions with six very talented actors, a great stage management and production staff, and an exceptionally skilled director, Suzi Regan.’
“A Jukebox for the Algonquin” director
Suzi Regan has been within the theatre business for 33 years as an actor, director, designer, sometimes teacher/coach and writer.
She said every role has enjoyable aspects.
“A director looks at the project in a wide shot, an actor looks at the project in a close-up,” Regan said. “Both are challenging and fun, just a different focus.”
She also has a colorful way of explaining what the play is about.
“A Jukebox for the Algonquin is a play about a month in the life of residents and employees at an ‘age in place’ retirement community and all that comes along with that: joys and challenges of aging, friendship, loss, family, bingo, armchair yoga,” Regan said.
Regan also described her directorial process.
“Directing is a matter of focus, asking questions, research, collaboration, daydreaming,” Regan said. “The process starts well before the first day of rehearsal with the designers and production meetings. There are conceptual discussions and logistical discussions for months before the actors arrive. And then finally when actors are in the room, it is time to play within the boundaries of the world of the play as defined by the design team. I like working organically until we find a place that feels ‘right’ by honoring the intention of the playwright and process of the actor.”
She also worked closely with the playwright, and actors, to develop a stellar production.
“Paul (Stroili) is super collaborative,” she said. “It helps he is an actor, as well. He was writing and clarifying and streamlining and cutting scenes, single words as we were working…he is intuitive but also super smart and works fast. The actors were open and up to the task, not to mention talented…it is invigorating and can be overwhelming at this breakneck speed where script and intention and blocking are so fluid…it requires all to bring their game, stay present and remember we are all on the same team to serve the play.”
“A Jukebox for the Algonquin” playwright
Playwright Paul Stroili has over 35 years of experience as an actor, writer, director, and producer. He has his own colorful description of the play.
“At a senior living community in the Adirondacks, a small group of residents decides they’re not quite ready to ‘go gentle into that good night.’ This band of displaced former city dwellers from Brooklyn and the Bronx hatch a plot to prove that aging is not a New York state of mind. ‘A Jukebox for The Algonquin’ is a tale about those who will not be forgotten – a serious comedy about sex, drugs and rocking chairs.”
Stroili said he has very personal experience upon which he build his play.
“I worked in a facility for elderly people when I was in my late teens, and the people and the environment there fascinated me,” Stroili said.
The play is also unique in that the actors are made up of an ensemble. Stroili had a good reason for this as well.
“I write character-driven plays,” Stroili said. “I find that audiences embrace them more. The play is about connection and how important human contact is, especially today. The best way to reinforce this was through an ensemble cast.”
While Stroili said he does not have a formal process for writing a play, he does have help.
“I don’t really have a formal process,” Stroili said. “My wife and I usually discuss concepts and then I sit at the computer and get started! If the topic moves me and was born of something true to my personal life, the narrative comes fairly quickly.”
This is also not his first time with the Purple Rose.
“I’ve worked at the Purple Rose as an actor in five productions, four of them world premieres,” Stroili said. “Having had a front-row seat to that process, and the care the team at the Rose takes with new work, I wrote ‘Jukebox’ specifically for them. I can’t imagine it premiering anywhere else.”
There were also many people involved in creating this play.
“Director Suzi Regan and Artistic Associates Rhiannon Ragland, Lucas Daniels as well as artistic director Jeff Daniels were essential in forming the play that’s on stage now,” Stroili described. “I was lucky enough to be a part of rehearsals and the actors also provided a great deal of feedback and insight that flavored the final draft of the show.”
And Stroili concluded that everyone will enjoy this play.
“The play is, first and foremost – very funny,” Stroili said. “But there are a number of poignant moments that people have been tremendously moved by. I have heard first-hand from many of our audience members—of all ages—that regardless of where you are in life, there’s something for everyone to identify with. We have been overwhelmed by the response. Some people have returned three or more times – every audience thus far has given the performers a standing ovation. It’s beyond anything I ever expected, and I’m tremendously honored to be a part of it.”
Directed by Suzi Regan (Birmingham), the cast features Susan Angelo (Los Angeles, CA), Wallace Bridges (Ypsilanti), Ruth Crawford (Ann Arbor), Mark Colson (Detroit), MaryJo Cuppone (Ann Arbor), Ethan May (Beverly Hills), and John Seibert (Ann Arbor). Set design is by Bartley H. Bauer, properties by Danna Segrest, costumes by Suzanne Young, lighting by Noel Stollmack, and sound by Brad Phillips. Karen Anne George is the stage manager.
PRTC was founded in 1991 by actor, playwright, musician and Chelsea native Jeff Daniels.
Donna Marie Iadipaolo is a writer, journalist and State of Michigan certified teacher, since 1990. Writing for national publications like The Village Voice, Ear Magazine of New Music, Insurance & Technology, and The Street. Writing locally for many local publications, including Current Magazine, Ann Arbor Family, and The Ann Arbor Independent. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she graduated with an honors bachelor’s degree and three teacher certificate majors: mathematics, social sciences, english. also earned three graduate degrees in Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Education Specialist Degree.