We glance in a mirror, as humans have since discovering the delight of our reflections, and slowly, in the accumulation of passing days, note that what was once pleasing acknowledgement of our youth and beauty has become a harbinger of another, less welcomed, message. The trail of years evidenced in new lines and unfamiliar softness; the dimming of color and heightening of hairline; the added weight and lessening of strength, all sound the alarm of having committed that most dreaded of acts: getting older. Becoming that contingent of human being seen as less attractive, less desirable; less vibrant, essential, capable, and certainly less relevant, simply by virtue of having lived long enough to be considered not young.
Strange, really, all the disrespect for aging, particularly since we’re all doing it, every minute of every day, even that charming three-year-old or that drop-dead gorgeous twenty-something.
Certainly history has chronicled times and places in which age and its learned wisdoms were revered, held in highest esteem, and in some parts of the world that remains a cultural norm. But here in America, society subscribes to a tenet of opposite focus: the idealization of youth, the commodifying of that narrow faction so zealously that fear of aging becomes almost inevitable. And not just because of the universal fear of death, but also because of the “fear of life”... that is, life lived as an older person.
Of course, older persons don’t see it that way; the view from inside is often strangely at odds with media-propagated images of decline and decrepitude, both in terms of health and physical beauty. But as younger persons daily witness (and often participate in) the systemic discarding, devaluing, and dismissal of fellow humans past a certain age, why wouldn’t they be terrified of getting older? From their point of view, and its urge to shove oldsters off on quickly departing ice floes, it may well be as horrifying as death.
There are many ways, many avenues and mediums, with which to address this confounding “epidemic” called ageism, and certainly there have been books, articles, seminars, documentaries, films and TV shows that have taken it on. Given the sheer depth and inevitability of its audience feeder pool – anyone who hasn’t died before their, say, fiftieth birthday, or whatever age is considered old these days – it would seem very good business to appeal to this enormous and ever-burgeoning demographic. Which brings me to THE GEEZE AND ME:
What about a stage musical that not only addresses the “vicissitudes of aging” with the wit and wisdom of its narrative, but demands that we listen and learn through the humor, sorrow, dignity, and exultation of song and dance? I’d say that was very good business, show or otherwise!
I became acquainted with THE GEEZE AND ME in late 2015. One of my oldest friends, a former actress, current writer and successful therapist, Nancy Locke Capers, informed me that she and her husband, Hedges Capers, had written a musical that featured Hedges’ original music, and was focused on illuminating -- in as entertaining a way as possible -- the facts and fiction surrounding the topic of aging. While I had, during my earlier acting days, done many a creative project with Nancy (was even directed by her in an original play at the famous Hollywood venue, The Improv), I knew less about Hedges’ songwriting bona fides from his earlier recording days with singing duo, “Hedge & Donna.” So when they expressed some version of, "My dad has a barn, my mom can make curtains, let's put on a show!” and asked if I’d like to come out of theatrical retirement to get involved, I took the opportunity to read and listen to what they had...and was absolutely floored.
Not only was Hedges’ music astonishing in it depth and variety, from the skin-tingling ballads of “Beauty I Beg You” (“bring me back another day”) and “If I Ever Smile Again” (“it will be in dreams beside you”), to the raucous irreverence of “That’d Be Me” (“who’s got a problem gettin’ up and down those stairs?”) and “Enough” (“Buffett’s got enough and Gate’s has got enough, but what’s enough enough for me?”), but the humor, pathos, heart and soul he and Nancy infused into the script, with its eclectic set of characters and their individual and connected stories, was deeply moving. I dragged out my old theater bag, started warming up the vocal cords, and headed down to San Diego... I was on board.
With their “mixed mission,” so to speak, the Capers were committed to creating a musical that not only rocked the house, but hit all the right notes in terms of data and research. They turned to experts in the field of aging and brought on, as script consultants, Dr. Dilip Jeste, a geriatric psychiatrist and neuroscientist who’s Senior Associate Dean for Healthy Aging and Senior Care at UC San Diego, and Danielle Glorioso, a member of UCSD’s Division of Geriatric Psychiatry, and Executive Director of the Center for Healthy Aging and the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. With Jeste’s and Glorioso’s input as foundation, THE GEEZE AND ME makes a credible argument for framing “these last chapters” of life in a far more vibrant and hopeful way than is typically portrayed in the media or even other creative works. The message? Not everyone in their fifties, sixties, or seventies mirrors Cocoon, Getting On, or The Golden Girls; some are still kicking black jeans, inspiring tingles when they dance, falling into new love, or shaking the rafters with rock & roll!
I write about THE GEEZE AND ME less to promote the show – it is, after all, premiering in San Diego, CA, which means the majority of those reading this article will be nowhere near enough to get to the theater – but more to underscore the inventiveness and creativity of artists, creators, cultural thinkers, and social contributors, like the Capers, who utilize art to convey information that educates as well as entertains; that helps demystify and humanize various social issues, in this case, the flummoxing process of aging and how society marginalizes and limits that shared human experience. At a time when comic book movies are the trend, music and TV are devoted to all things young, and even musical theater bends backward to appeal to the “viral youth demographic,” it seems somehow bold, maybe even subversive, to build a brand new musical around the topic of getting older!
Who knows... maybe it’ll start its own trend!
Photo collage created by LDW; photos provided by Don Priess, Ken Jacques, and Susan Farese @ SJF Communications