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Musical set to tell story of hospice experiences

Nov. 01, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

After Mary Smirl's mom and dad went through Hospice of Huntington, the local choreographer and director wondered what she could do best to give back to this loving organization.

That was an easy call -- put on a show.

A major player in the regional theater scene with her husband, Tommy, Smirl has gathered up some of the region's top singers and actors to star in "There's No Place Like Home," an original home-spun musical based on actual hospice experiences.

The two-hour show takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are $15, with corporate tables available for $500 and $1,000. Those tables include wine and appetizers.

This variety show packed with song, dance and comedy, includes such well-known theater stars as Clint McElroy, Jack Cirillo, Ryan Hardiman, Laura Evans, Mary Olson, Sackcloth2joy, Kala DeHart, Daniel King, Honor McCain, Roger Lucas and others. Smirl said Laura Donahoe and Linda Reynolds also helped to put the show together.

Smirl said this Friends of Hospice benefit has a little bit of everything including, yes, comedy, fueled in part by an appearance by WSAZ anchors Tim Irr and Bill Murray as Cowboy Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story.

"It's not a Debbie Downer show," Smirl said. "The show has a really good feeling. It's based on the stories submitted by people in the community and based on the positive experiences of Hospice. The goal is to celebrate and appreciate Hospice and create an awareness that Hospice isn't just about dying."

Somewhat spoofing the musical "Nunsense," the play uses five nuns to help along the theme of life-lived quality from the first breath to the next step.

"Everybody loves Hospice and has a positive experience about how much Hospice meant to them in a difficult time," Smirl said. "From my experience, it was all about living every moment and the quality of celebrating life right up until the very last minute. And that's not just my take. Reading from the other stories, that is pretty much what Hospice does."

In between true stories from such folks as two-time graduate of Hospice, Ray Ridgeway, the show will include songs to fit the moments and to help color those poignant vignettes of real life.

"The whole idea was to not only showcase Hospice but to put it in a little bit of a brighter light," Smirl said. "The stories are just beautiful and funny and sweet, and we've followed that up with a set of songs that compliment that story, so it is definitely a variety show."

Shelly Betz, director of development and community relations for Hospice of Huntington Inc., said there's never quite been a show here like "No Place Like Home."

"The 'Friends of Hospice' have really poured the hearts into this unique stage production," Betz said. "From the day we asked the community to share stories about their hospice experience, it has been incredible. When people have an opportunity to reflect upon life and what makes them happy, it's not uncommon to find inspiration laced with humor. Some of us look for bright spots in our life to keep us going, and it's no different with hospice families. The way such personal stories have been interwoven into this evening of celebration is truly amazing. The audience will be entertained and inspired and will leave the Keith-Albee full of hope and appreciation."

Smirl said she wanted to thank everyone who contributed stories as well as all the performers for helping out Hospice.

"It's a little bit of everything," Smirl said of the show, "We've got Sackcloth2joy and a band and Kala DeHart and a choir of children, and so it's been kind of like a puzzle show. We got who we wanted, and everyone has been perfecting their act, and then we're pulling it all together this week, and it's going to really be a treat to have all of these people coming together."