Original musical brings famed comedian to the stage

Spooky season has arrived and with it comes copious amounts of candy, haunted houses, hayrides and Skelton. Yes, Skelton, you read that correctly. Red Skelton.  

 There are many local theater companies in the area, but none quite compare to Premier Arts, a community theater based out of Elkhart. From larger Broadway-like productions to smaller, more intimate shows, Premier Arts never fails to bring premium musical theater to Michiana.

 This week, Premier Arts is putting on an original musical about the life and legacy of the American comedy entertainer, Red Skelton. Executive Artistic Director Craig Gibson wrote the script for the show and the music, and the lyrics were written by local composer Liesl Bell. 

“Goodnight and God Bless: The Red Skelton Story” is a tribute to the legendary comedian and Indiana native.

 Gibson took on this project when prompted by Jack Boyd Smith Jr., who was a family friend of Red Skelton’s. Because Red Skelton was a Hoosier, Smith Jr. approached Gibson about creating a musical to tell the story of one of Indiana’s most famous residents. Gibson enthusiastically embraced the challenge. 

Red Skelton was born Richard Bernard Eheart, on July 18, 1913, in Vincennes, Indiana. He began his comedy career in vaudeville, a type of entertainment popular in the early 20th century that featured burlesque comedy, song and dance. By 1937, Red Skelton had grown to be a nationally-known comedian.

 He was best known for his work in national radio and television as host of the variety sketch program, “The Red Skelton Show.” He died on Sept. 17, 1997, at the age of 84, leaving behind a comedic legacy.

“Goodnight and God Bless” features three phases of Red Skelton’s life; from his early childhood years, to his budding Hollywood career, and finally his 20-year run on the television sensation, “The Red Skelton Show.” This stage production explores the many faces of Red Skelton throughout the years.

“My favorite part about playing Red Skelton is the opportunity to bring his timeless comedy to life,” said Tanner Smale, who plays the up-and-coming Red Skelton in the musical.

“There is something so nostalgic about pratfalls, spit takes, and good old clean comedy. It reminds me of cartoons I used to watch as a kid and tried to mimic, and now I get to as Red Skelton.”

There are about 20 people in the cast, making it one of the smaller productions that Premier Arts has done.

Craig Culp, who plays the older Red Skelton remarked, “The whole rehearsal process has gone so smoothly because everyone knows what to expect, and there is a certain familiarity and trust in this cast because we have pretty much all worked together before.”

The story has not been an easy undertaking. Because it is an original, everything had to be started from scratch.

“There is a responsibility to do Red justice, because he is such an American icon,” said Culp. “There is something serious about being so funny.”

“Goodnight and God Bless: The Red Skelton Story” hits the Lerner Theater stage this weekend, Oct.11,12, and 13. Students can reserve tickets by calling the Lerner Box Office at 574-293-4469 or visiting https://www.premierarts.org/

Ticket discounts will be offered if presented with a valid student ID.

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Written by Amber Heydon, Staff Writer

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