To paraphrase Cole Porter, today is another opening, another show for the Lyric Theatre. Specifically, it’s the first night for “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” a comedy drama set in pre-war Atlanta.
If you got past the “first night” of “The Last Night,” you probably weren’t swayed by “comedy drama” either. Think of television sitcoms that use humor to help tell a serious story. A New York Times reviewer compared the process to the television show “Designing Women” when “Ballyhoo” opened on Broadway in 1997.
It’s likely that only faithful followers of stage theater know about “Ballyhoo.” However, almost everyone recognizes an earlier work also written by Alfred Uhry. “Driving Miss Daisy” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1988 and became an Academy Award-winning motion picture in 1989.
“Ballyhoo” followed in its footsteps, winning a Tony Award for best play in 1997 and being named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.
Inspired by the playwright’s childhood memories growing up in a Jewish family living in the Deep South, “Ballyhoo” was commissioned for the Olympic Arts Festival held during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
“Ballyhoo” is the second in a trilogy of plays by Uhry set in the Atlanta, the first being “Miss Daisy.” It’s a study of relationships among people of different cultures — even those from the same culture — but lessons regarding discrimination, status, materialism, family, and faith are peppered with humor.
The play begins during December 1939. “Gone with the Wind” is holding its world premiere downtown, and a second world war looms in Europe. But my focus today is not so much on Uhry’s poignant story. Instead, it is on the talented Lyric ensemble bringing another must-see show to Central Texas audiences.
The players in “Ballyhoo” are familiar to area audiences. You also see them every day in the community. That’s what community theater is all about.
Yet, don’t be misled. The talent of these performers is top drawer. Don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone who travels many miles to Brownwood to see this, or any other, Lyric show. Visitors from Austin, Dallas, Houston, and beyond will testify that the Lyric’s shows are as professional as those of any production back home. That includes the set, sound and lighting as well.
As is the case in any community theater, those involved are volunteering because they love what they do. They give up hours of their free time and many evenings with family to create the best shows possible. The community, through its generous support in recent years, has provided them with a stunning venue in the Lyric Theatre. Now, everyone can enjoy it.
Not everyone can sponsor a show. Not everybody can be a patron, or make a major financial gift — though gifts of any size are needed now more than ever.
But what almost everybody can do is buy a ticket and enjoy a show at the Lyric. With its attendance, the community can thank these performers for their efforts and ensure that more quality shows will be staged.
“Ballyhoo” is a show well done, and it’s a show that’s entertaining with a message worth repeating. Your six opportunities are Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend, and again next weekend. Hope to see you there.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.