Over-simplified, this is roughly the plot of "Lunch at the Piccadilly," the irrepressibly side-splitting and heart-stoppingly poignant musical that premiered last week at Cape Fear Regional Theatre (in Fayetteville, NC). It takes all the despairing moments in a nursing home and encapsulates them into a delightful show that's a must-see for everyone. Remove your reading spectacles, put on your distance glasses, take a load off your feet and settle back to let the good times roll. And will they ever!
Director Steve Umberger has translated the music and lyrics by Mike Craver and Clyde Edgerton into a funny, teary and totally unforgettable show, one that presents totally believable actors who're just like the people next door. You believe you're on board for a three-hanky time, but you're so busy laughing that finding time to cry just isn't an option.
On the heartache side, there's the caring nephew Carl (Greg King) opining "How Do You Tell 'Em They Can't Drive No More" while his Aunt Lil (Bo Thorp), singing "Home Is Where The Heart Stays," cranks up her Kirby vacuum to clean the baseboards one last time. It's a graphic scenario of that moment every individual must face one day.
At Rosehaven, Lil meets a memorable cast of characters, including caustic former librarian Clara (Patricia Cucco), depressed former evangelical preacher L. Ray Flowers (Mayon Weeks) and a judgmental complainer suffering from intermittent bouts of dementia, Beatrice (Phoebe Hall). Luckily there are also a warm and loving social worker, Anna (CoCo Sansoni), and the sunny natured nurse Carrie (Vivian Wade-Banks), who make up for the meanness of others in charge.
This is a pair one hopes never to encounter. They are officious chief nurse Geraldine (Libby McNeill Seymour), with a Ph.D in Christian geriatrics, as well as a penchant for acronyms, and the sleazy, money grubbing Dr. Ted Sears (Rob Summers), who's all for putting old people out to pasture, pulling the plug on the poor and ensconcing the rich in their well-deserved luxury.
Set to songs, ranging from such ditties as the hilarious "How Does A Glass Eye Work," "Medicaid Hell" and "Business is Business" to the mournful dirge "Bring Him Home", this is a gentle story with an unflinching message about right and wrong that hits the mark.
High points? Almost too many to enumerate. The baffling scene where Carl is presented with a maze of government gobbledygook paperwork. The incomprehensible moment when Beatrice ponders the mystery of "seeing through a glass eye darkly." The bouncy quartet of Clara, Beatrice, Lile and Preacher Flowers belting out "Jesus Would Approve/First Breakfast Club." The foursome's version of the wave, Clara's rendition of the hootchy kootchy and three little old ladies wriggling to the music on a purloined iPod.
With Craver's pop-in appearance as Eli Greyson, there's also a wonderful surprise at the end of the musical. So, how on earth could a show with the reasonable argument that a First Breakfast Club is the logical follower to 2000 years of Last Suppers miss?
Believe me, the answer is that it can't.