"What are you doing here?" a female audience member asked Gary Ellis after the conclusion of the opening night of The Key Players' show, “On Golden Pond.” “You should be in Hollywood.”
Ellis, an Islamorada resident and co-founder of the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series with his wife Susan, recently returned to the Key Players stage after a 16-year hiatus. Formerly acting and singing in the Key Players’ shows, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof, Ellis opens “On Golden Pond” by entering and “opening up” his family lake house on Golden Pond as the character Norman Thayer Jr.
Anyone who knows Ellis knows he is quick with a story, a joke and a smile, so to watch him play the seldom-smiling, death-obsessed Thayer who is as ornery as a loon confined to living on land is to watch a transformation of one of the Keys best-known characters. Touching, sentimental moments, such as between Thayer and his daughter, and a young lad and the old man may produce a lump in your throat. By the end of the five-scene show, you care mightily about the whole cast.
Another audience member whispered about Ellis, “He resembles Henry Fonda.” Fonda made the movie role of Norman Thayer Jr. memorable in 1981 as the irascible husband of Katharine Hepburn, who was “Ethel,” a role played by Mary-Ann Gibus in the Key Players version. Jane Fonda played Chelsea, the Thayers’ daughter in the movie, and is portrayed by newcomer-to-acting Kat Newman. Newman’s role is a challenging one which she handles with aplomb and is deserving of accolades.
The entire cast is terrific but it’s hard not to let 14-year-old Ben Jones steal your heart as Billy Ray. Able to teach an old dog new tricks, Billy Ray also teaches Thayer some new, hipper lingo, providing comical moments that are fun to behold.
The producer is Kathy Miller, who also portrays a telephone operator in the play, and the director is Jonelle Kop. Many behind-the-scenes people deserve praise for their dedication including set designers and creators, such as Chris Elwood, who provided family photos to be used on set!
Proceeds from the opening night, Jan. 31, benefitted Redbone "To Catch the Cure" for Cystic Fibrosis. The show is dedicated to Tom Butler of Key Largo who has given the Key Players 20 years of service and who is a huge part of the Key Players success.
“On Golden Pond” continues Feb. 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, at 8 p.m. at the Murray Nelson Government and Cultural Center at mile marker 102 bayside.
Theater-goers will regret missing this fine play. Put it on your must-see list this weekend or the following two weekends. The lobby and box office open at 7 p.m. and beverages and treats are available for purchase. Seating opens at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $16 in advance, or $18 at the door.
For more information and terrific photos of the cast and play by Photographer Pete Bacheler, visit www.thekeyplayers.org or call 305-453-0997.
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