Ain't retirement grand?
Pardon the grammar, but that's the exact musical question Gil Perlroth is asking in his 23rd and latest musical production, which finished a run earlier this month at the Venue Theatre in Pinellas Park.
Typical of show biz, Perlroth's productions often are more recognized than his name, even though he creates the entire world of the production — music, lyrics, story. And he accompanies on the piano.
His latest is aimed, as its title suggests, at the land of retirement. "I've been living in a 55-plus community," Perlroth, 81, explains, "for the last 12 years. A writer observes. You look. You get to know the people.
"What I write is developed out of that."
Ain't Retirement Grand? is a musical revue featuring two males and two females of retirement age. They perform no less than 23 songs "with a little connective material," Perlroth explains.
Song titles include There They Go (about adult children reluctant to leave the nest), The Wedding From Hell (singer recalls being married three times), Catch of the Day ("about a widower who lives in a retirement community and is the envy and desire of all the widows in the place.")
There are songs about Early Bird menus and about how everyone needs a pet. Toward the end, one of the couples makes a will and sings, "We spent it all on ourselves."
You get the idea. Perlroth has a sense of humor about the world around him.
The 54-seat Venue Theatre and Actor Studio was an ideal location for Perlroth's work and his growing reputation.
"I booked the show because I know Gil. I've worked with him before," said Corinne Broskette, the theater's executive director.
Six performances of Ain't Retirement Grand? are scheduled there in June.
Cultivating local playwrights
The theater staged a previous Perlroth work, Your Call Is Very Important To Us, about a call center in India. "Very funny," Broskette notes. "I loved his humor. He's a fine musician. We like to support local playwrights."
The musical world for Gil Perlroth started back in New Haven, Conn., where he was born. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and another bachelor's degree from the University of Hartford's College of Music.
After working in New York City and a stint in the U.S. Army, Perlroth realized that "the music I had grown up with was dead as a doornail." Rock 'n' roll was in and although Perlroth tried his hand at penning some rock, it wasn't his genre — even though, for a while, he worked with pop singer Carole King.
His writing took him into advertising and commercials. His ads helped launch the Princess style telephone, for example, the first model with the dial and numbers (remember the dial telephone?) built into the receiver.
He later worked for Grumman Aircraft and Eastern Airlines, in public relations. By 1980, Perlroth realized he was unhappy in PR and wanted to get back into music. He started playing piano in bars and writing music. He moved to Gulfport in 1998.
Since then, he has written a show a year, he says. Most, but not all, have been produced in local theaters.
Christmas Is for Children was produced throughout the country. Marilyn and Joe was voted Best New Musical produced in Connecticut in 1994. The Joy of Being Single had a seven-month run at Danny's Skylight Room in Manhattan, as well as a sold-out run in 2001 at the Gorilla Theatre in Tampa under the title Sex & Sensibility.
Perlroth has had two shows produced at the Catherine A. Hickman Theater in Gulfport — God Only Knows in 2004 and Dancing with You in 2005.
Perlroth's work has received awards, and he has been commissioned to write original works for local agencies.
He was commissioned by the Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater to write a musical for its 75th anniversary in 2006.
And he has been commissioned to write another original production by the city of Gulfport to commemorate its 100th anniversary in January 2010, tentatively titled Gulfport, the Musical.
This will be a big production, with a cast of at least 20 to 25, Perlroth says. "It'll cover all the high points." Auditions and rehearsals are set for October.
"I love what I do," Perlroth says. "I live in a retirement community, but I'm not retired. I work eight hours a day. Ideas are still flowing."
A hobby of solving problems
He and his wife, Cynthia, have been married more than 50 years. They are avid theatergoers and they like to travel, he says.
He writes, first in longhand, then on the computer.
"It's a habit, writing longhand, and I'm not about to change," he adds. "I can scratch out and do what I want."
Perlroth says he loves the challenges of creating music and lyrics. "When there is a musical problem to work out, it's fun to work it out," he says. "I love to labor over things like that. That's my hobby. That's my life.
"That's the way it will be till I get to the point where I can't do it anymore."
Fred. W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.