Beaufort man's musical about senior living comes to life

Beaufort resident Jim Herring stands on the stage at ARTworks on May 1, where set construction for a reading of his musical, "80th Reunion," is under way.
Beaufort resident Jim Herring stands on the stage at ARTworks on May 1, where set construction for a reading of his musical, "80th Reunion," is under way. Jay Karr/Lowcountry Current

Hollywood and Broadway aren't exactly clamoring for a blockbuster about Medicare and assisted living. "High School Musical" sells, not "Retirement Home Musical."

But a few years ago Jim Herring asked himself, why not? And he started to write a musical about life as a senior.

What resulted is "80th Reunion," a lyrical play that serves as a parody about retirement living. It makes its Beaufort debut Sunday at ARTworks.

"There's interest for this down here," Herring said. "(Seniors) want to be entertained. And, they don't mind being satirized."

Herring has been involved in theater for decades, but not until his golden years did he start to take it more seriously. A Conneticuit native, he graduated Harvard business school and went into a management training program at GE. From there, he moved into market research and product planning at Texize in South Carolina.

Once in South Carolina, he got involved in theater, acting in local productions. He started writing plays in his free time. The first was about empty nesters, something he and his wife were going through at the time. In retirement he wrote more, getting involved in promoting the College of Charleston's theater department through playwriting contests.

About four years ago, long since retired from a variety of business ventures, he got the idea to have some fun with his old age. He started coming up with clever little ditties about retirement homes, baby boomers and health insurance. He melded them into a lyrical play, a musical without music yet (because there's no music, the play will resemble more of a collection of sonnets or poems). Drawing on his marketing background, he tested it for retirement communities and ran the words by doctors to make sure he was staying in good humor. The idea is for everyone to be in on the joke. Risque, but not offensive. Playful, but not childish.

Through his theater connections, he got the Flowertown Players in Summerville to put on a performance. The company will be traveling to Beaufort for the one-night-only show.

Herring moved to Beaufort about eight months ago and pitched the play to ARTworks. He's looking to stage it elsewhere in the area, as well as put music to the words.

So far, he's received good response proving to him that a sophisticated, nuanced version of senior life can play well. As one viewer once told him, it's nice to see seniors portrayed as adults, not dolts.

An excerpt

"We'll sell you health insurance

First, swear you're seldom ill

And blessed with strong endurance

So we won't pay the bill

If you have preconditions

Like cramps or leaks or lame

Even in remission

Then we'll deny the claim

We'll treat you like your mother

Even worry when you drive

One cold will breed another

Stay home and you'll survive"