Posted by: Kath Usitalo | April 28, 2011

Ernie Earns Applause

Will Young as Ernie and TJ Corbett as The Boy (Photo by David Reed)

Ernie. No last name is required for anyone who knows a bit of baseball history.

And to a baseball fan, especially someone who grew up listening to radio broadcasts of Detroit Tigers games, “Ernie” is the must-see new play by Mitch Albom that honors the legendary “Voice of Summer.”

But this show isn’t reserved for those who are on a first name basis with Ernie Harwell because he called ball games for 55 years—42 of them with the Tigers.

You don’t have to love the sport to appreciate the tale of a young man from Georgia who, early in his career in a studio far from the ballpark, embellished ticker tape reports of an Atlanta Crackers game with his imagination and sound effects to bring America’s pastime to audiences huddled around radios.

A man who went on to earn multiple honors, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.”

(David Reed-Ernie the Play LLC)

“Ernie” is told by two actors, Will David Young as the title character and TJ Corbett as “Boy.” It’s directed by Tony Caselli, and takes place in a tunnel inside the Detroit Tigers’ Comerica Park on September 16, 2009, the evening an ill, 91-year old, beloved Ernie bids farewell to and thanks his fans.

The intermission-free, 90-minute play at Detroit’s City Theatre incorporates photos and film footage to weave historical events with biographical details about Ernie and his family including Lulu, the love of his life and wife of 68 years.

Playwright (and columnist, radio host, book author and charitable guy about town) Albom had spoken to Ernie about writing a play, but didn’t tackle the project until after his friend passed away in May 2010.

He nicely ties together personal history with relevant landmark moments on the diamond, the glamour of the broadcast booth (not), nostalgic clips of World Series Champion Tigers, the old stadium at Michigan and Trumbull, and insights into the gentle man who brought warmth and wit to his play-by-play with anecdotes about the athletes and observations such as (after a strikeout), “He stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by.”

Among other things I learned that Ernie was responsible for choosing Jose Feliciano to sing the National Anthem at Tiger Stadium during the 1968 World Series. My brother Gordie and I were at that game and I still remember the crowd’s shock over the radical rendition—it was the first time a singer dared to put a spin on the the Star Spangled Banner.

The other night, as the crowd shuffled into the City Theatre for a preview performance of “Ernie,” I heard a man behind me say to his companion, “Two things will make this a success: Mitch Albom wrote it and it’s about Ernie Harwell.”

The play is scheduled to run Thursdays-Sundays through June 26. Don’t just stand there like a house by the side of the road. Go see “Ernie” before it’s lonnng gone.

NOTE:  On select dates those who want to make a doubleheader of it can attend the play and head to Comerica Park in time for a Detroit Tigers ballgame (and save $5 on the Tigers ticket). Buy tickets at OlympiaEntertainment.com, Ticketmaster.com, or the Fox Theatre Box Office.

Most tickets to “Ernie” are $20 (some “premium” seats are $25 though it’s an intimate theater and all seats seem to have a good view). A portion of the proceeds will be donated to some of Harwell’s charities. City Theatre is inside the Hockeytown Cafe building next to the Fox Theatre on Woodward Avenue and near Comerica Park.

ASIDE: Although much has been made of the effort to keep the theater ticket price at an affordable $20— which is great—be prepared to pay the same for convenient parking at the adjacent Fox garage.

At least that was the price as fans headed to Comerica Park for a game and City Theatre for the play: $20 early in the evening but after the show, as I walked two blocks to the free, two-hour parking spot I’d found on a street, I noticed that the garage fee had been reduced to just $5.

Visitor Info Clicks: Detroit

Pure Michigan

Check out the The Voice of Summer, a musical tribute to Ernie Harwell.

Here’s  The voice of summer, a nice story about Ernie from ESPN Page 2.

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