The Ritz Theatre is to welcome Alan Safier for a one-man production, "Say Goodnight Gracie," at 7:30 p.m. April 26. A native of Cleveland, Safier portrays legendary entertainer George Burns in a multimedia show written by Rupert Holmes.
Safier said he first appeared onstage at age 9. Similarly, Burns was 8 years old when he started performing with a group called the Pee Wee Quartet.
During his school years, Safier participated in stage productions and other school performances.
"My first 'class clown' gig was in eighth grade doing JFK and making people laugh. That was how I got the comedy bug," Safier said.
He completed a master's degree at Ohio University. Since then, Safier has done numerous impressions and voiceovers for radio and television commercials and acted on television programs and in stage productions. He is an author, playwright, educator, producer and recording artist. His CD, "Alan Safier Sings the Songs of George & Gracie's Heyday," was released in 2011 and will be available for purchase at The Ritz.
"They'll be on sale in the lobby, and after the show, I'll be out there signing them and saying hello to everybody," Safier said.
"Say Goodnight Gracie" with Safier as Burns is in its sixth season. The show won the National Broadway Theatre Award for best play and had been touring for a few years with another actor before Safier was given the role in 2008. Safier said the original actor had to undergo throat surgery and a replacement was needed to finish the rest of the shows booked that season.
Safier's agent sent him to audition.
"The next thing I knew, I was in rehearsal. It all happened very, very fast. I went out and bought some DVDs of the Burns and Allen TV show and started working on the impression from that," he said. "I did as much research as possible and read his books."
Just two weeks after being hired, Safier was in Memphis, Tenn., doing the show. Having been a fan of the "Burns and Allen" television show and Burns' movies, including "Sunshine Boys," the "Oh, God" movies and "Going in Style," Safier said "never in a zillion years" did he suspect he would be playing Burns on stage.
The show already has bookings for next year.
"I'm going to keep doing it until I don't need an hour's worth of old age makeup any more," Safier said.
In his research, Safier said he was surprised to learn, when the duo first started out as a vaudeville team, Allen was the straight character while Burns played the ditsy role. Even then, Allen was getting the laughs.
Realizing she was the funny one, Burns decided they needed to switch roles. Allen had to relearn all her lines, but she got the character quickly and the act was a hit.
Safier said he has learned to recreate Burns' raspy speaking voice without injuring his throat. The show also includes a bit of singing, but Safier said he does not do "anything special" to protect his voice. When the schedule is heavy, he drinks a lot of hot tea with lemon and honey. A microphone in his glasses also boosts his volume and reduces strain.
In addition to "Say Goodnight Gracie," Safier performs another one-man show, "Humbug," at Christmas time. In that musical production, he plays 27 characters from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
Writer Sheldon Harnick had the idea for Safier to do the show and helped Safier co-write the script.
"Joseph's Gospel" is another one-man show Safier is developing. He tells the story from the persona of Joseph of Nazareth, and what it was like to be the father of Jesus. The show is to debut later this year.
"It's a very interesting play. Joseph is portrayed as a modern man," Safier said.
For now, he is looking forward to performing in his home state. Safier said he has been to The Ritz in the past to watch someone else perform. He is hoping friends from Cleveland will come to Tiffin for his show.
In addition to Safier's portrayal of Burns, the program includes still pictures, film clips and sound bites from Burns' performances in shorts, features, TV, variety shows and guest appearances with Jack Benny. Didi Conn (Frenchie from "Grease") is featured as the voice of Gracie Allen.
"It's very funny but also very touching. There will be tears of joy as well as tears of sadness," Safier said.
Tickets range from $10-$25. For tickets and information, stop at the box office, 30 S. Washington St., visit www.ritztheatre.org or call (419) 448-8544.