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Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

Play about life of Ernie Harwell comes to Grand Rapids

Hospice of Michigan is bringing Mitch Albom’s family-friendly play honoring the life of Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell to West Michigan, for a two-week run in September as a special fundraiser.

“Ernie,” which played to sold-out houses when it debuted in Detroit last summer, is set on Ernie Harwell’s last night at Comerica Park, when the Hall of Fame broadcaster is about to give a moving thank you to a grateful city. Just before he walks onto the grassy field, he encounters an unusual boy who is eager to know all about him, coaxing Harwell into giving one final broadcast—the broadcast of his life.

Albom, a longtime friend of Harwell and his family, has had many inquiries about taking the play on the road, but turned them all down until Hospice of Michigan asked him to bring the show to Grand Rapids. The play kicks off its 12-performance run at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Sept. 12, with an Opening Day event that will feature Albom, Harwell’s son Bill and well-known Detroit Tiger alumni.

Tickets for opening day are $250 and can be found at www.hom.org. Tickets for other performances are $30 each, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster.

Proceeds from the play will benefit HOM’s Open Access Program, which provides care to those who need help, regardless of age, diagnosis or ability to pay. Each year, HOM provides end-of-life care for more than 200 West Michigan residents each day.

“Ernie Harwell has been a true treasure for the state of Michigan,” said Marcie Hillary, executive director of Hospice of Michigan/West Michigan. “Throughout his life, he served as a role model for what’s truly important: family, graciousness, civility and giving back.”

“Ernie” debuted in April 2011, nearly a year after Mr. Harwell lost a 10-month battle with cancer. It played to sold-out houses at the City Theatre in Detroit, just one block from Comerica Park. It was brought back by popular demand for a three-month run in Detroit that ended a few weeks ago.

The 90-minute play boasts many unmistakable Harwell calls and features actual footage from historic baseball moments, supplied courtesy of Major League Baseball. Tiger fans will get a glimpse of the time that Ernie met the Great Bambino and Ty Cobb. They’ll witness how he recreated games in his early days, and what was behind his broadcasts of the Tigers’ 1968 and 1984 World Series.

In real life, Harwell and Albom spoke often about doing a stage play one day. Albom, the hugely successful playwright behind “Tuesdays with Morrie,” was willing to collaborate with Harwell, but in 2009 Harwell’s health faded and the project had to be shelved. After Ernie’s death in May 2010, Albom picked up the pen again, and the result reached audiences in April of the following year.

“Ernie’s story transcends sports,” Albom said. “It’s a story of 20th century Americana and a love affair with baseball and a childhood sweetheart. Ernie went through the Depression, World War II, and the segregation of sports. He also called some of the grandest moments ever witnessed on a ball field. It’s an honor to bring such a rich character to the stage, especially for so many fans who loved him.”

“Ernie” features the talents of Will David Young, who portrays the legendary announcer with an uncanny and often startling similarity to his one-of-a-kind voice. Young has appeared in many of Michigan’s professional theaters including The Purple Rose, the Performance Network, the Detroit Repertory Theatre and the Boarshead Theater.

Young is joined by Timothy “TJ” Corbett, who plays the Boy in this 90-minute retrospective of the famed broadcaster’s life. A recent theater graduate, Corbett founded and ran a small theater company, Hole in the Wall, which then went on to perform at the college circuit and in Southeastern Michigan.

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