To battle the budget crisis, aging mobsters return to the stage
It’s one of those things that may seem like it’s always been here, but Senior Services of Central Illinois, Inc., is only 50 years old. And it hasn’t always gone by that name. Its roots go back to a study begun by United Way in 1957, but it didn’t become a reality until 1966, when the Senior Citizens’ Center was incorporated. Its first location, at 1315 South Eighth St., opened the next year.
In the years that followed, it moved a couple of times. Its current location, at 701 West Mason Street, opened in May 1976. It also evolved from merely a place to socialize and play pool and cards (although there’s still plenty of that), to a wide array of services for those 50 and older. Its geographic focus also grew to include four counties – Sangamon, Logan, Mason and Menard. With that expansion in 1997 came a name change, from Senior Services of Sangamon County Inc., to the present Senior Services of Central Illinois.
As the Senior Center grew, it sought additional funding sources, including a gift shop, rummage sales and an auction. Another kind of fundraiser came in 1992 with, Over 60 But a Long Way From Over the Hill, the first show of the Mature Mob. That makes 2016 the 50th anniversary of SSCI, and the 25th anniversary of the Mob. Since its inception, the Mob has raised more than $250,000 for SSCI’s activities.
In describing SSCI’s mission, executive director Karen Schainker refers to “A New Year’s Prayer” by W.R. Hunt, and the line “...a work to do which has real value, without which the world would feel the poorer....” She continues, “I believe that the work done by this agency exemplifies and answers that request. For these past 50 years, the many people involved with this agency have been rewarded by the opportunity to bring more independence and quality to the lives of some of our needier senior citizens.”
A double anniversary such as this calls for a celebration – perhaps one incorporating some of Broadway’s greatest hits. That’s what that talented troupe of performers known collectively as the Mature Mob is doing this year. A Salute to Broadway features songs, dances and sketches dealing with the Great White Way.
But it’s not just a collection of show tunes. Woven in with the music is a story line chronicling what aspiring performers do in their efforts to succeed – their arrival in New York, their drive and determination, and what it takes to put on a show.
The opening song is “Pure Imagination,” first made famous by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “That song says it all,” says director Don Bailey. “Imagination determines what you can accomplish.” Another song Bailey cites is “Electricity,” from the musical Billy Elliott: “It describes what an actor feels that motivates them to perform.”
No one is more motivated than the character of Mabel (Mary Beth Maloney). Much of this story about Broadway is told through her eyes, as she works her way from sweeping theater floors to going on stage. You’ll have to see the show to learn how successful she is.
Few people have more experience in every facet of theater than the director of A Salute to Broadway. By his estimation, Bailey has been at it for 65 years, longer than some cast members have been alive. He directed his first play in high school, and has done some 150 shows as an actor or director. His credits include multiple shows with the Muni and Springfield Theatre Centre, as well as community and regional theater throughout the Midwest.
Within the narrower context of the Mature Mob, he’s done 10 shows prior to this, mostly directing, though in one, 1999’s Red Hot and Cole, he played the legendary songwriter Cole Porter. This is Don’s first time back with the Mob since 2008. It was the chance to celebrate the group’s silver anniversary that brought him back, as well as something less desirable. In recent years, budget cuts at Senior Services of Central Illinois have forced the elimination of 23 positions and the imposition of furlough days, among other austerity measures. Since this past November, SSCI has been closed Fridays, a casualty of the state’s continuing budget impasse. As an SSCI press statement says, “We look forward to a return to being open five days a week when our governor and legislators are able to set a budget.”
Suffice it to say, SSCI needs money – and the Mature Mob provides an entertaining way of raising it, drawing a loyal and enthusiastic audience, as well as a group of singers, dancers and actors, some 80 in all. Some have been with the Mob for years. One who sadly won’t be on stage this year, Michele McHugh, was in every show from 2003 on, and gave her all in every one of them. Just a few weeks after last year’s show, Prescription for Fun, she died suddenly. This year’s show is lovingly dedicated to her.
In her biography, Michele described the Mob as “a fun and talented group.” The current incarnation of that group soldiers on, because they love to perform, and because they know they’re helping other seniors. The show’s finale, the theme from the musical Applause, describes it well. In the end, it’s all about the applause.
Will Burpee is a Springfield-based freelance writer and occasional actor and singer. This year’s Mature Mob show is his 10th.
A Salute to Broadway
The Mature Mob presents A Salute to Broadway, at the Sacred Heart-Griffin Auditorium, 1200 W. Washington, Springfield. Show times are Friday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 24, and Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15, with children under 12 free. Tickets are available at Senior Services of Central Illinois, 701 W. Mason St., by phone at 528-4035, or at the door. All proceeds benefit SSCI.