Weekender

A real-life connection: ‘Morrie’ cast differed on character approach

Norrine Sims will direct the Next Stage’s production of Mitch Albom’s best-seller “Tuesdays With Morrie,” starring Mike Waldhier, left, as Albom and A. Bryan Humphrey as Morrie Schwartz.
Norrine Sims will direct the Next Stage’s production of Mitch Albom’s best-seller “Tuesdays With Morrie,” starring Mike Waldhier, left, as Albom and A. Bryan Humphrey as Morrie Schwartz. Photo provided

You may have read the book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” or maybe you saw the movie. But, according to the Next Stage theater company, you have never seen it quite like their upcoming performance.

The company will present an adaptation of Mitch Albom’s memoir through April 5 at the State Theatre. The play is directed by Norrine Sims and stars Mike Waldhier as Albom and A. Bryan Humphrey as Morrie Schwartz.

Albom’s story chronicles his meetings with his mentor. Albom took Schwartz’s classes at Brandeis University but lost touch with him for 16 years before seeing him on an episode of “Nightline” and reaching out to reconnect. Once reunited, they met over the course of 14 Tuesdays while Schwartz was dying of ALS.

The play is narrated by Albom and flashes back to the pair’s meetings while tackling the themes of friendship, acceptance and mortality.

Though the subject matter can be grim at times, Sims said that sentiment does not overpower the play.

“The story is so beautifully conceived with the idea of life and living fully,” Sims said. “That helped us stay lighthearted as opposed to letting the sadness take over.”

Waldhier and Humphrey had not acted together prior to this play but said they quickly developed a rapport and enjoyed working through the script together.

“We connected with the very first read-through,” Waldhier said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘You’re perfect for the role.’ ”

The actors’ approaches to the roles differed greatly. Waldhier said he deliberately did not do any research on Albom so he could approach the character with a clean slate. But Humphrey said he watched YouTube videos of Ted Koppel interviewing Schwartz on “Nightline.”

“The thing about Morrie is that he’s an everyman,” Humphrey said. “Watching those videos, you can see everything about him and what he has to say about humanity. ... I looked at that a lot.”

The play’s small cast allowed Sims and producing artistic director Mary Skees to spend time deconstructing the script rather than just running lines at rehearsals.

“We had more time to guide the journey of the actors and about the philosophies of the two men in the story and the journeys they take,” Sims said. “It’s a luxury that you don’t always get to share together.”

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