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Thursday, March 6, 2014 12:01 am

Local playwright brings The Rev to life

Andrew Willmore as the Rev. James Howard, with Tom Heintzelman, who plays a Catholic priest.

 

In the theater class he teaches at Robert Morris University, George A.M. Heroux advises students to look for plot details from one’s life. “I’ve done that with the plays I’ve written,” he says. He’s definitely taken that advice in his latest work, The Rev – A Musical Comedy, which makes its debut March 7-9 and March 14-16, at the Legacy Theatre. The Rev’s central character is based on someone Heroux met some 50 years ago.

He was in the Army at the time, and while on leave in Europe met a minister from New York. Heroux recalls, “He told me there was a woman back in New York he was going to marry, but then he met a showgirl and fell in love with her. He knew he couldn’t take her back to his congregation.”

Heroux never learned how the minister made out, but it gave him an idea he carried with him for years. He finally acted upon it when he wrote The Rev. The story of the Rev. James Howard (Andrew Willmore) is pretty much identical to that of the clergyman Heroux met. The reverend has just arrived at his new church, and is eager to settle down and get married, only to find himself smitten with two very different women.

The first is an attractive, staid member of the church’s board of directors (Cynthia Higginson). The second is a pretty, ambitious aspiring actress (Tia Spencer) working as a waitress in a local diner. He finds himself juggling the two women, neither of whom know about each other. Doing his best to help the reverend through this awkward situation is his best friend, a Catholic priest (Tom Heintzelman).

The minister is also an avid classic movie buff, and that love is reflected in his sermons. He includes everything from famous movie dialogue to impersonations of such greats as Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Cary Grant, Jack Nicholson and even Bette Davis.

Reacting to his sermons, and responding through their songs, is his choir, a 14-member group composed of veterans of local music theater, as soloists or chorus members.


Tia Spencer plays a waitress who is an aspiring actress.

Cynthia describes her character as “strong, self-assured and independent….influential in the community, but she does have a tender side. She’s hurt by the reverend’s vacillation, but knows something is going on.” Tia, the other third of this triangle, says her character “has never dated anyone like the Rev before. She wonders, should she give up her dreams for him?”

Some of the song titles strongly hint at the reverend’s affinity for the movies – “That’s Bogey,” “Dirty Rats” and “We Can’t Handle the Truth.” Another is the choir’s response to the reverend’s Bette Davis impression: “He’s Gone Too Far.” Still others describe the situation in which the characters find themselves, such as “I’m a Bit Enchanted,” “What a Dilemma!” and “Is This My Dream?” Heroux wrote the lyrics, with music by Donn Stephens, whom Heroux calls “the professional musician I needed. He turned my simple tunes into real music.”

Heroux, who also co-directs (with Kayla Primm), calls his first musical “easier than I thought it would be.”

He’s previously written several plays and books, two screenplays and many newspaper and magazine articles.

In addition to teaching at Robert Morris University, he’s also a lawyer and victim advocate. He began the latter career 13 years ago, working on behalf of victims of drunk drivers. Initially working with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers), he eventually formed his own nonprofit, Victim Impact Speakers. Its members are victims of drunk drivers who speak statewide to first-time DUI offenders, and to high schools, in an effort to help prevent further such tragedies. Proceeds from The Rev will go to VIS.

The Rev will be performed at the Legacy Theatre, 101 E. Lawrence, March 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. and March 9 and 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door. For more information call 800-835-3006, or visit www.atthelegacy.com.

Will Burpee is a Springfield freelance writer and actor.

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