For some performers, it’s a way to rekindle a youthful passion of years past. For others, it’s just about letting loose and having fun, while maybe enlivening the spirits of those in the audience who may not be able to get out to a live musical performance.
Primetime Players, a community theatre troupe of seniors age 55 and older, is still going strong after starting more than 10 years ago at the Long Beach Senior Center at 1150 E. 4th St. The colorful cast of seniors produces about three performances a year, taking their act to other senior centers and various venues throughout the city.
“We like to get the audience involved so they can sing along to some of the songs that they recognize,” said Claudette Clayton, a 77-year-old Compton resident, who joined the group six years ago. “You can say we’re catering to the senior group, because that’s our audience.”
This summer, the performing-arts group is putting on a variety show called Love, Marriage and Whatever! The show, which premiered at the Long Beach Senior Center’s stage on Monday, Aug. 12, is a mixed bag of musical numbers, dance routines and comedic performances.
The show, which includes a cast of about 20 people and has its own original script, is set at Lola’s French restaurant and it includes a mock wedding and various solos and duets of some of the “oldie but goodies,” such as “Que Sera Sera,” “Put On A Happy Face” and “You Make Me Feel So Young.”
The show also features some funny skits, said Clayton, who added that it’s important to keep your sense of humor no matter what age you are.
“The ‘whatever’ really means ‘whatever,’” chuckled Clayton, who during the show breaks into melody, as she saunters down the stage to dance with a man in the crowd, while singing the 1920s song “Why Don’t You Do Right?”
Clayton said she has a little experience being on the big stage. She once performed a comedy act at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem. But now she is happy to give singing a try. “I love to sing,” Clayton said.
Barbara Klein, who directed the performance, said the production continues to provide seniors with a way to enjoy being involved in the arts. This year, the group includes a cast of members who range in age from 59 to 93 years old, she said.
“I really consider us a family because everyone in this group cares about each other and helps each other,” Klein said. “We all have our differences, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but we are a family joined together.”
Klein said the seniors have a diverse mix of backgrounds as well, with some who have professional experience. One of the main performers is Caprice Rothe, who is most known as the alien-movement choreographer for ‘80s films E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Cocoon. She has also worked as a professional mime and as an actress in the 1987 parody movie Flicks.
“We have some very talented people here,” said Claudia Ellis, who plays Lola in the show.
Klein said the group performs about two musicals and at least one “dramedy.” Though some members may have limitations due to various medical conditions, the script is written based on what the performers are capable of doing, she said. For this summer’s performance, Robbie Danzie provided choreography.
“Normally, I announce what the show theme is going to be about two months ahead of time, so when they come in they have an idea of the kind of music that we need, and they usually select their own songs,” Klein said. “Once they’re selected, we write a script that fits the songs and fits the capabilities of the people in the show.”
Bettye Little, 80, who is one of five original members of Primetime Players, said the group used to perform more serious and complex plays, but today the short acts make it easier for everyone to perform.
One of the main goals of the group is to provide entertainment to seniors, many of whom may be unable to attend a more professional play or show due to physical or financial limitations, Klein said. “Our biggest intent is to make something that the audience can enjoy,” she said. “Our basic philosophy is to take shows to people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to see the show.”
Primetime Players is funded through a grant from the Arts Council for Long Beach and donations.
Love, Marriage and Whatever! performs: today, Aug. 16 at noon at AbilityFirst, 3700 E. Willow St.; Aug. 19 at 11am at Silverado Park Auditorium, 1545 W. 31st St.; Aug. 21 at 1:30pm at Gold Star Manor, 3021 N. Gold Star Dr.; Aug. 22 at 1:30pm at Leisure World Clubhouse 2, 13533 Seal Beach Blvd. in Seal Beach; and Aug. 23 at 1pm at the Long Beach Senior Center. The Primetime Players’ fall show in November will include Broadway show tunes.