Senior citizens perform the play ‘Into the Woods Sr.’ at Hampton Fields Village

Wednesday, March 4, 2020 | 11:00 PM

Residents of Hampton Fields Village in Allison Park headed into the woods recently, performing an adaptation of a musical courtesy of Broadway to Seniors, a new program that brings theater to senior communities.

A cast of eight senior residents there took part in a pilot theater program presented in collaboration with the UPMC Senior Communities, Music Theatre International (MTI), and Jeter Backyard Theater. The production was performed at the Legacy Theater in Allison Park on Feb. 29.

“Into the Woods Sr.” is part of a larger pilot program undertaken by MTI to adapt well-known theatrical productions for the senior actors. MTI chose UPMC Senior Communities and Christie Jeter, Executive Artistic Director of Jeter Backyard Theater, as partners in this project.

Hampton Fields Village, which is part of UPMC Senior Communities, is the first facility in Pittsburgh to be a part of Broadway to Seniors. “Into the Woods Sr.” is a musical mixture of fairy tales, adapted from the original play “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine.

Jeter was director for the production and said she greatly enjoyed working with the seniors.

“We made it fun,” Jeter said.

The program came about through Freddie Gershon, the former principal owner and chief executive officer of MTI. He conceived the idea of Broadway Junior musicals. He then thought why couldn’t this concept be applied to senior communities.

“They should have a sense of purpose,” said Gershon, who is now co-chairman of MTI. “They don’t have to be age appropriate to play these roles.”

He enlisted Jeter to help run the program.

‘It’s really just about having fun. It’s a group activity where everyone has a role,” he said.

Jeter said adaptations had to be made as some had hearing aids, another had mobility limitations, and someone else is blind. And it was a success.

Hampton Fields resident Oneta Doubleday, 86, originally from Oklahoma, moved to the area to be near her son in McCandless. She had never been in a play.

“It’s been a real challenge. (But) I persevered,” said Doubleday, who played the Baker’s Wife.

She said they practiced twice a week and said it was challenging doing the lines, as the show is fast paced. So, she would get together with other residents to practice on their off-days.

Susanne Flaherty, 62, a resident at the center, volunteered to play a witch who raps. She’s a self-described introvert.

“It brought me closer together with other members of the play. I’m surprised of what I’m willing to do in front of other people. I’m a shy person,” said Flaherty.

Bill Johnson, 81, plays the Little Red Riding Hood Wolf, and Cinderella’s prince. He helps Flaherty keep time with her rapping by tapping his cane.

Overall, he said the experience was worthwhile.

“It’s something to do. Our enemy that I think people would see here is not doing anything or becoming stagnant. This gives people an opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t do otherwise,” said Johnson.

Kristen Madden, a marketing director with UPMC Senior Communities, was impressed with the dedication.

“Our residents have taken to this opportunity beyond expectation, even getting together to rehearse on their own. Honestly, the performance itself is secondary to the process as a whole, which has strengthened relationships and enlivened each participant’s sense of self. We were all gifted with the chance to see one another in a different light,” Madden said.

The audience was mostly made up of residents from other senior communities and family members of the performers. More than 200 people attended and a dozen school-age students from the Jeter Backyard theatre joined the production to serve as stage crew, actual set pieces, and vocal support, according to a UPMC Senior Communities spokesperson.

Johnson was happy with the results.

“I was most impressed by the ardor and passion that my fellow actors display in their roles, no matter how big or small. It has been a real pleasure,” said Johnson.

No word on where it’s going to next, but Gershon has high expectations.

‘I know this is going to be a great success,” said Gershon.