NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The anguish and approbation of Steve Kluger's life will play out on stage when the curtain goes up on opening night and George Street Playhouse presents "Last Days of Summer."
Kluger, who wrote the book on which the play is based and also has written the lyrics to the musical's tunes, wanted to give his father a role model he never had since his dad was never around.
So he created this story about Joe Margolis and his son, who open a box of letters that transport Joe back to his youth in 1940s Brooklyn. Young Joey and his best friend, Craig, are writing fan letters to their hero, Charlie Banks. Banks, the star third baseman of the New York Giants, and Joey forge an unlikely friendship that might be the very best thing they both need.
Kluger's father got a chance to see the book taking shape before passing away in 1995.
"I said, 'See, this is you as a kid,'" Kluger said. "He said, 'No, no, no. This is you while you were a kid.' I thought, 'Oh, that's interesting.' He said, 'I never had the balls to pull off stuff like that. That was you.' He started reciting things I had done in high school that were a little extreme and I never thought twice about it. So I realized I had created an amalgam of me and my father which is a great way of really mending that relationship because he was absent from our lives, too."
Friday is George Street Playhouse's chance to shine in the newly opened $172 million New Brunswick Performing Arts Center that it shares with the Crossroads Theater Company, the American Repertory Ballet and Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts. "Last Days" will take the stage at the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater.
The show, which runs until Nov. 10, is directed by Tony Award nominee Jeff Calhoun ("Newsies" on Broadway) and stars Teal Wicks (Lady Cher in Broadway’s "The Cher Show") and Bobby Conte Thornton ("A Bronx Tale" on Broadway).
It will also feature music by Grammy Award-winner Jason Howland ("Little Women").
The cast features a number of Broadway favorites, including Danny Binstock ("Breakfast at Tiffany’s" on Broadway), Don Stephenson ("A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder" on Broadway), Mylinda Hull ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on Broadway and George Street Playhouse’s world-premiere production of "It Shoulda Been You," directed by David Hyde Pierce), Will Burton ("Hello Dolly!" on Broadway), and Christine Pedi, known for "Chicago" on Broadway.
They are joined by a young cast featuring Julian Lerner (national tour of "Les Miserables") and Parker Weathersbee (national tour of "Les Miserables"), in addition to Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton (national tour of "School of Rock"), Sabatino Cruz (Astoria Performing Arts Center’s "Caroline or Change") and Jeslyn Zubrycki.
Rounding out the cast are Peter Saide, Sean Watkinson, Julio Rey and Junior Mendez.
Although "Last Days" enjoyed a successful run at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre starting in 2018, this version will be a little different, Kluger said.
Kluger said he had preliminary meetings with David Saint in late December. That's when George Street Playhouse's artistic director suggested incorporating the epilogue, which had been left on the cutting room floor when "Last Days" jumped from novel to musical. Saint saw it as a story-telling device that makes the performance warmer.
"It's essentially the same show, but there's a whole other level to it," Kluger said. "It resonates so much more loudly with so many more people. It was great. It was a great concept."
For more information, log on to georgestreetplayhouse.org