ACT set to do World War II era classic

News Photo by Diane Speer Among those appearing in Alpena Civic Theatre’s first show of 2017 are, from left, Andrew MacNeill, Bob Stelik, Joe Rybarczyk, Nick Stone, Jacob Duggar, Curt Hampton, James Shultz and Eugene Bacon. “Mister Roberts” opens next week.

Having always been a fan of the 1955 film, “Mister Roberts,” Pat Jacques wanted to do the stage version at Alpena Civic Theatre for a number of years. The challenge of filling 15 male roles, however, held him back until just recently.

Jacques, as director, was able to pull a cast together for this funny and touching classic that takes place aboard a Navy cargo supply ship operating in the back waters of the Pacific toward the end of World War II.

“I’ve always liked the film and I thought there is a lot of World War II nostalgia right now,” he said. “So I thought our audiences would appreciate seeing the show. I don’t think it’s been done here before.”

“Mister Roberts” won the 1948 Tony Award for Best Play and is based on a novel by Thomas Heggen. It began as a collection of short stories based on Heggen’s experiences on a ship during the war, with Heggen and Joshua Logan later asked to adapt the novel into a play.

When “Mister Roberts” open on Broadway in 1948, it starred Henry Fonda as the title character. He ultimately won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role. Fonda went on to star in the film version, along with James Cagney as the cruel and ambitious Captain of the ship, Jack Lemmon as Ensign Frank Pulver and William Powell as the ship’s doctor.

Jacques said he recently saw a clip of Jerry Lewis on his 91st birthday in which Lewis regretted turning down the part of Ensign Pulver.

“When Jerry Lewis was asked if he had any regrets over the course of his career, he said not taking the part of Ensign Pulver. It made a star of Lemmon, the actor who played it,” Jacques said.

Jacques cast local actor Nick Hartman in the Ensign Pulver role. Matt Southwell gets to play the Henry Fonda role of Mister Roberts and Bruce Michaud is the difficult Captain. Ironically, the ship’s doctor played by famous actor William Powell in the 1955 film, now stars local actor William Powell in ACT’s upcoming production.

The show opens next Thursday for a two-week run. Show dates are Jan. 12-15 and Jan. 19-22.

During the course of the play, Mister Roberts serves aboard the USS Reluctant and would do anything to leave the quiet of the ship to join the “action” of the war. Trouble is, the ship’s Captain is a bit of a tyrant and isn’t willing to sign his transfer requests.

In the meantime, Mister Roberts guides the spirit of the crew’s undeclared war against the Captain, which makes for a continuously smoldering warfare between the captain, the other officers and the men of the ship.

“The play is written beautifully,” Jacques said. “It should get a lot of laughs and may even bring forth some tears so it runs the whole emotional gamut.”

Along with the four lead roles, Jacques pulled in Randy Bouchard to play Dowdy, Joe Rybarczyk as Insignia, Laura Wolosiewicz as Lt. Ann Girard, Jacob Duggar as Mannion, Curt Hampton as Stefanowski, Andrew MacNeill as Dolan and Larry Foster Goodrich as a Shore Patrol Officer.

Handling duel roles are Ted Rockwell as Lindstron/Payne, James Shultz as Schlemmer/Reber, Bob Stelik as Chief Johnson/Gerhart and Nick Stone as Wiley/Military Police.

“This is really a nice bunch of people,” Jacques said of both the cast and crew. “I’ve been wanting to do the show for a couple of years, but was always held back by the fact that we’ve got a cast of 15 guys and one woman, which is pretty tough in amateur theater to find that many men around who were available. I’ve had a lot of cooperation and a lot of help.”

He said he’s relied considerably on his assistant director, Carol Rundell, as well as Grace Morrison, who designed the set to look like two cabins on a ship. Additionally, Jacques credited Bill Powell, Jay Kettler and Marlyn Kettler for helping with the set. Marilyn has served as the show’s costumer and Jay as the light designer, while Tracie Papin is the stage manager.

“There are some surprises in the show that are top secret, so I think it will be worthwhile entertainment, especially for people interested in a little World War II nostalgia,” Jacques said. “It shows a different side of the war than people usually see.”