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posted May 8, 2010, 6:09 PM by Steve Umberger   [ updated Mar 25, 2015, 8:14 PM ]

by Everett True

Although the Piccadilly is a popular southern cafeteria-style restaurant, this eatery attracts a car-load of elderly thrill-seekers who escape from the fictional Rosehaven Convalescence Center. This lunch actually caters to people who enjoy a rare treat in theater. The menu lists a cast of characters sure to fill the appetite for good laughs, with humor for the main course and a tear or two for dessert.

The Cape Fear Regional Theater presents the world premiere of Clyde Edgerton's novel Lunch at the Piccadilly, rewritten as a musical for performance on stage. The preview is Friday, March 10, and the Champagne Opening is Saturday, March 11, followed by 14 more performances through March 26.

The play exposes that hidden slice of life, when people live out their golden years in a nursing home. Set in the fictional town of Lister, NC, it's actually a behind-the-scenes look into the day-to-day adventure of getting older.

According to Edgerton it's all based on real life. "I had to put my aunt in a nursing home in 1996," Edgerton explained. "And that got me started dealing with the heroes and villains, the family drama and stress that comes to life in this kind of place. I had a unique relationship with my aunt and I wanted to write about that. Since several of my novels were adapted to the stage, but other people did it for me, I decided to do this one myself."

Edgerton came up with the musical idea two years ago and sent an email to former Red Clay Rambler Mike Craver, asking him to be his accomplice in writing the music and lyrics.

The Red Clay Ramblers played old time string band music. The group started as a trio, became a quartet, and finally a quintet, all acoustic in an Irish/Scottish style - turn of the century Appalachia - with a banjo, mandolin, guitar, and piano. The band played out of Chapel Hill, all over the state, the U.S., and overseas. The Ramblers made nine albums and did some theatre work, starting out in a piece called Diamond Studs.

"I saw his production of the Oil City Symphony which Mike wrote and produced Off Broadway," Edgerton said. "I love his voice. He's one of my favorite singers so he was a natural selection." It has taken two years and over 300 emails to bring Lunch at the Piccadilly to life on stage.

Edgerton and Craver have combined their talent to write 25 songs for this production.

"Edgerton is a popular southern-style writer and musician," Craver said. "I like his books a lot and I knew he was a good songwriter so I said yes. It's really exciting for me because it's a new show. It's all original music that we wrote and that's thrilling. It was challenging to take a nursing home setting and make a musical out of it. You don't ordinarily think of nursing homes as being places where people just break into songs and dance but we do and it's a really good time."

CFRT Artistic Director Bo Thorp plays "Lil Olive." Lunch at the Piccadilly is the fourth Edgerton play Thorpe has helped bring to life on stage. In the late '80s and early '90s she produced Rainey, Float Plane Notebooks, and Walking Across Egypt with great success, and she expects Lunch at the Piccadilly to do quite well.

"We had such a terrific turnout for the reading in January and that's a key indication that people really like Edgerton's work," she said. "This isn't a musical like you'd expect in theatre. This is an ensemble piece and it's principally about old people, with a cast of 10, and some of the actors are musicians as well. Above all the script is funny, and funny is hard to come by. It's easy to make people cry in theatre but to make people laugh it really has to be funny."

Steve Umberger of Charlotte Repertory Theatre fame, is the director.

Umberger has developed and directed 150 theatre premieres. He is also the founder of Playworks, an independent production company created for the development of new plays and films.