I’ve learned some basic truths in recent months. Among them: pains and little cares, dear, come in little pairs, dear; the rich get rich and the poor get poorer; and, perhaps most important, not to mess with “Mr. In-Between.” In case those words don’t make any sense to you, they’re lines from a few of the songs in “Prescription (Rx) for Fun,” this year’s effort from that talented group of old-timers known collectively as The Mature Mob.
This will be my ninth year as part of the Mature Mob, which is presenting its 24th annual show. The Mob is a collection of singers, dancers and comedians who present a revue each year, to showcase their talents as well as raise some money for Senior Services of Central Illinois. “Prescription for Fun” will take place at the Sacred Heart-Griffin Auditorium Friday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, Sept. 19, at 2 p.m.
The idea for this year’s show came from longtime Mob member Shirley McConnaughay, with the script written by a couple with several previous Mob shows to their credit, who are returning after an absence of several years. Joe Natale was recruited in 2003 by then-director Don Bailey to write that year’s show, with wife Patty Flanagan-Natale stage managing. They remained for several more shows, but this is their first since 2009’s “Give My Regards to Vaudeville.”
At first glance the hospital/medical theme may seem to hit a little close to home for its senior target audience, who tend to be a little more familiar with such things than the general public. In fact, said Joe, the setting offers numerous comic possibilities, “many of which were inspired by real life.” Patty seconds that sentiment: “I worked at the Presbyterian Home for years, and everywhere I went, I’d hear old people talk about their illnesses, about who died, and gossip about their doctors. They were always laughing about them.” Joe and Patty co-wrote this year’s script; Patty is also a chorus member.
The title, “Rx for Fun,” pretty well sums it up, though one title considered was “Musicare.” Doctor-related humor has a long tradition in comedy, including possibly the most famous such joke around, Henny Youngmann’s classic exchange: “‘Doctor, it hurts when I go like this!’ The doctor said, ‘Don’t go like that!’” That one-liner is in this year’s show, part of a series of skits with Ron Waltrip playing the MD.
The medical comedy is woven in with a series of standards, including “Pick Yourself Up,” “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “The Beat Goes On,” “Lean On Me” and “When I’m 64,” to name but a few. Even hospital meals are recognized with “Food, Glorious Food,” from the musical Oliver.
The show’s director and announcer has an abundance of theatrical experience. Richard Judd has been in so many productions over the years, he admits he can’t remember them all. By his estimation, he’s done more than 60 such shows as an actor, singer and, to a lesser extent, director, including a few dozen shows for St. Louis’ Muny.
Richard, originally from the St. Louis area, eventually arrived in Springfield, where he participated in about 20 productions with the Muni, Theatre in the Park and the Springfield Theatre Centre. Some of his STC credits include The Sound of Music, 2004’s Death of a Salesman and 2008’s A Few Good Men.
His theatrical experience means a lot to him. “That’s how I learned my craft,” he said, “from my experience in different kinds of theater, from so many people. I want to impart what I’ve learned to our group.” He especially enjoys his involvement with the Mob: “They’re seniors who continue to enjoy theater, and life, in all its forms.”
“Rx for Fun” is his return to the Mob after an absence of several years.
For the fourth straight year, the annual revue will be performed at Sacred Heart-Griffin auditorium. Besides being an excellent venue, the Mob has been ably assisted by SH-G students who work behind the scenes with props, microphones and chairs as well as selling tickets, distributing programs and seating.
This year’s show will go on without its longest-lasting member. George Jirgal joined the Mob for its second show in 1993, and has been in every show since then...until this year. He planned to be in “Rx for Fun,” but died suddenly last month. This would have been his 23rd show. His involvement with the Mob was inspired by the Muni. In 1993, the Muni produced Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance and George auditioned, hoping for a solo number. He got a part in the Pirates chorus and, as he told me in 2013, “I needed more experience to sing a solo at the Muni, so when the second Mature Mob show announced auditions, I signed up quickly, especially since...the cast members must be at least 55 years old (the minimum age has since been lowered to 50). No competition from most of the Muni casts.” His wife, Lois, joined the Mob several years later, and he set a record for endurance that may never be topped. This year’s show is lovingly dedicated to him.
The show’s finale is the Johnny Mercer-penned classic, “Accent-chuate the Positive.” It’s a fitting conclusion, not only because George had soloed on that song in previous shows, but because it typifies the upbeat, optimistic air of the show. The next-to-last number – “My Favorite Things” with new lyrics – does that also. The cast has unofficially dubbed it “the Maalox song,” after its first line: “Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting.” It notes the trials and tribulations of growing older (“When the joints ache/ when the hips break/ when the eyes grow dim...”), but concludes, “Then I remember the great life I’ve had/ And then I don’t feel so bad...”
Imagine a revue that can find the good, and the humorous, in such things, and you’ve got “Rx for Fun.”
Will Burpee, a Springfield writer, is a longtime Mature Mobster.
The Mature Mob presents “Prescription (Rx) for Fun”
Sacred Heart-Griffin Auditorium, 1200 W. Washington, Springfield
Friday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 19, at 2 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 20, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $10 adults, $5 children 3-12.
Available from a Mature Mob member, at Senior Services of Central Illinois, 501 W. Mason, Springfield, or at the door.