Heartfelt, humorous ‘80-Year-Old Boyfriend’ sparkles at Loft Theatre

Charissa Bertels in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

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Charissa Bertels in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Charissa Bertels dazzles in one-woman musical about an unlikely friendship.

New York-based actress Charissa Bertels has a story to tell and she’s telling it to the hilt in her charming one-woman musical comedy “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend,” receiving a terrific Midwest premiere at the Loft Theatre through July 3.

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Charissa Bertels in "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," previously presented by Arizona Theatre Company and currently presented by the Human Race Theatre Company through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: TIM FULLER

Charissa Bertels in "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," previously presented by Arizona Theatre Company and currently presented by the Human Race Theatre Company through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: TIM FULLER

Combined ShapeCaption
Charissa Bertels in "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," previously presented by Arizona Theatre Company and currently presented by the Human Race Theatre Company through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: TIM FULLER

Credit: TIM FULLER

Produced by the Human Race Theatre Company in cooperation with the Arizona Theatre Company, where it played last fall, “Boyfriend” finds cheerful Charissa looking back on her life as an aspiring actress before she landed her 2012 Broadway debut in “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” While working her side job selling juice in a grocery store, she meets Milton, an inquisitive elderly millionaire from the Upper East Side who realizes she’s having trouble meeting her quota. Casual conversation between strangers ultimately blossoms into a cross-generational bond between kindred spirits conversing about Schubert, Shakespeare and Dallas BBQ. “Boyfriend” is a relevant reminder that genuine, enduring friendships can arise when you least expect if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone, embrace vulnerability and simply be open to change.

“We sat for three hours and talked about life, literature and art,” Charissa told Dayton.com recalling the first time “Milton” invited her to his home. “We became fast friends. It’s been amazing to cultivate a relationship with somebody who is old enough to be my grandparent but is not related to me. It was awesome to see how much we had in common even though we’re different. I’ve always had a heart for older people. A lot of times in our society older people don’t feel seen or heard, which is why this show is important to me.”

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Librettist-lyricist Christian Duhamel (a Wright State University graduate) and composer-lyricist Ed Bell expertly musicalizes Charissa’s astonished opinion of Milton’s grand residence in the beautiful ballad “What a View,” one of many tuneful, delightfully descriptive numbers (music director/pianist Brett Ryback supplies fantastic accompaniment with particularly dramatic flourish toward the conclusion). Over frequent games of poker and discussions of his ex-wife and estranged daughter, Milton, described as “the little old guy from ‘Up’ – but older,” feels completely formed as an earthy, irritable, rude and tender presence due to Charissa’s expressive mastery of physicality, voice, comedic timing and stamina.

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Charissa Bertels with music director/pianist Brett Ryback in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

Charissa Bertels with music director/pianist Brett Ryback in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

Combined ShapeCaption
Charissa Bertels with music director/pianist Brett Ryback in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

“I thought I had lost ‘Milton’ at one point, and I was so devastated because I felt like I hadn’t been able to tell him how much he meant to me,” Charissa said. “Luckily, that wasn’t the case, and it really taught me not to wait. Do not wait to tell people how much they mean to you or do the things you really want to do.”

Charissa also noted she altered some of her experiences for the sake of artistic license, but the portions centered on her rocky relationship with her emotionally distant father are completely true. Themes of forgiveness and reconciliation as well as the importance of staying true to self are significant as the material, performed in roughly 105 minutes, effectively deepens toward its heartwarming finish.

For example, Charissa’s superb rendition of “The Love Left Behind,” strikingly accented in lavender and blue by lighting designer John Rensel, is an empowering knockout. Poignancy also fills Milton’s gentle response to Charissa being cast in “A Christmas Story”: “You let yourself be fully present.”

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Throughout the breezy production, fluidly directed with engaging intimacy by Sean Daniels, Charissa’s triple threat talent is on energetic, entertaining and sincere display. Whether exhibiting Fosse expertise with slinky grace, seamlessly handling costume transitions, tap dancing with finesse or showcasing her lovely soprano while playing the piano, she leaves nothing undone. It is apparent this show is a vehicle intended to make prospective producers sit up and take notice.

“I always wanted to do a one-woman musical, but I wanted to wait until I had something significant to say,” Charissa said. “So, when this happened in real life, I felt this was it. I’ve never really felt this way on a project. It’s incredibly challenging, especially on the body and the voice, but it’s also fulfilling. So often you’re doing a project written by someone else, telling someone else’s story. But to do something that is so deeply personal and meaningful and to get to share that with an audience every night is amazing. It’s a unique journey.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Charissa Bertels with music director/pianist Brett Ryback in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

Charissa Bertels with music director/pianist Brett Ryback in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

Combined ShapeCaption
Charissa Bertels with music director/pianist Brett Ryback in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," continuing through July 3 at the Loft Theatre.

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

Credit: HUMAN RACE THEATRE

According to the Human Race, “Boyfriend” has its eyes set on New York City. I’m sure there will be tweaks (projections would heighten the design and overall scope), but the show’s central, optimistic message of connection and friendship greatly resonates. Before Charissa takes off-Broadway by storm, see her in Dayton delivering one of the best performances of the season.

HOW TO GO

What: “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend”

Where: Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton

When: Through July 3; 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday

Cost: $17-$53

Tickets: 937-228-3630 or daytonlive.org

FYI: A “While We’re on the Subject” meet and greet with the cast and crew will be held following the Sunday, June 26 matinee.

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