Mediterra Residents Get Laughs, Form Friendships with Self-Spoof Play
How Ronnie Antik and her fellow Mediterra residents wrote a musical from scratch and performed it for a sold-out audience
Think about your hidden talent. Do you have one? Let’s say you sing. You’re a good singer, too. But you don’t really do it that often. You might be like Sue Yellin. She used to be in school musicals, but now, as she lives the good life in Florida, the only time she really sings is on the golf course of her high-end gated community. It kind of drives her friends crazy. But she loves it. One day, she hears about this musical. It’s about the community she lives in. A good friend of hers is the director, and she’s in need of people who can carry a tune. She jumps at the chance.
Be careful: Before you know it, you might just be belting out a song to hundreds of your friends in a concert hall.
Please keep in mind that what we’re talking about here isn’t community theater. It’s theater about community. And when the community is a haven for the wealthy, it certainly makes for interesting theater.
The show is Mediterra: The Musical Redux, the “redux” referring to the similar show put on 10 years ago. It’s a tribute to the community with plenty of good-natured ribbing about the things that happen when rich retirees move to the Sunshine State—golfing, drinking, gossiping, more drinking (seriously, lots of boozing jokes), cosmetic enhancement. All in song form. Featuring 13 skits and 32 residents and a few cameos from Mediterra staff. Performed in a 250-seat theater.
The amateur actors didn’t really think of themselves as singers or actors. They’re corporate titans, some of whom still buzz around the country for consulting or deals or settlements. They’ve practiced for months, and for one night, they’ll perform for their neighbors. No one will confuse it for Broadway. But a funny thing will happen: None of them will really care.
The “putt-a-littles” have a problem. Understandably. One skit in this production is homage to The Music Man. There’s a stretch when five amateur thespians have to create this undercurrent of talk. The lyrics are “putt a little talk a little / putt a little talk a little / chip chip chip / talk a lot putt a little more” (a spoof of the “pick a little talk a little” refrain from Music Man). It’s said repeatedly, quickly, over a substantial stretch that can twist even the most trained tongue. Then comes the contrasting harmony (“Minnesota and Wisconsin / Oklahoma there’s so many of you here,” sung to the tune of Goodnight Ladies) that just makes it downright confusing. If the “putts” or “chips” are a little off, it creates a sonic train wreck that derails the song.
Sue Yellin (right) goes over the script at dress rehearsal with staff member Sarah Taylor.
After about two months of practicing an hour a week, it’s slowly coming together. But the performance is only a couple of weeks away, so everyone’s a little anxious to get this thing right. On this April morning, the performers are on the lanai of the home of music director Mary Loftus.
Tony Fadool, the stand-in for Harold Hill, is a former sales manager for a national company whose job now is to make sure he’s getting his timing right with the five-person chorus, the so-called “putt a littles,” in the background. Sue Yellin, our golf course songstress, is also part of the chorus.
They rehearse. Over and over. Slow, then fast, then slow again because the fast was too fast for some. The actors tap their feet to keep time, while Mary moves in the way music directors move, as if their upper body bobbing up and down could physically make people sing on time. At one point, Sue blurts out, “Oh, kill me now”—an exaggeration, of course, but just barely.
One run-through ends, and Mary exclaims, “Well, that did not stink!” She’s half-joking, of course, but just barely.
“Again!” That’s Ronnie Antik. This production has a lot of moving parts, people behind the scenes who help pull it off. But Ronnie is the reason it is happening. She’s written most of the songs (parodies of well-known musical numbers) and now serves as director. She’s the embodiment of the phrase, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” But, then again, so are a lot of the people in the production. Ultimately, her job is like herding cats, if cats had tee times and grandkids and flights back to Harrisburg for a tax case. But she has faith they’ll get it done. They’re retired CEOs, lawyers, businesspeople. One is even Miss America 1979 (Kylene McNeill). “People are overachieving, but that’s natural for them,” Ronnie says.
Remember: This isn’t a normal community. This is a community that has an off-site private beach club, two Tom Fazio courses, a tennis facility with seating for 500 and award-winning gardens. With career experience in marketing and event planning, Ronnie has organized elaborate community costume parties (don’t bother to show up if you don’t want to dress up) that are bound to have a surprise—like an elephant walking in an India-themed wedding celebration they once hosted outdoors.
Once satisfied with the “putt-a-littles,” she heads out for the day. She’s already been at a rehearsal for a different skit earlier in the day, and several more are scheduled for the afternoon.
The idea for a musical came soon after Ronnie and her husband, Randy, moved into Mediterra. It looked like a community, but it didn’t feel like one. People really didn’t know each other. They played golf or tennis or gathered at the restaurant, and they found cliques. Ronnie had nursed a theater love since her kindergarten days, when she organized a show for neighborhood friends and took a liking to the stage (and to bossing people around, so she says jokingly). Ten years ago with some time on her hands, she wrote funny little numbers based on recognizable tunes and filled them with the type of jokes Mediterra retirees would get. (A crowd favorite: “The American dream: not a chicken in a pot but a home with a pool.” Runner up: “Up at 6, in bed by 9—that’s the Mediterra midnight.”)
Ronnie Antik directs the cast at dress rehearsal.
It’d be fun, she thought. It’s not like golf or tennis or any of the other groups. Song and dance can bond in a different way. An intimacy forms both among the actors and with the crowd. “There’s a certain magic to it,” she says.
She recruited, cajoled, persuaded and formed a tight-knit cast. The community board agreed to open up the clubhouse for a couple of performances. The show quickly sold out both nights. So, she sold tickets to the dress rehearsal. That sold out, too. It was a success. She and the cast members (like Tony Fadool, who was also in that first show) got compliments for months.
Ronnie stayed friends with the music director, Marilyn Scott, who brought up the idea about doing a revival. It was coming up on 10 years since the first show. New people had come. That community spirit needed to be revived again. Sadly, Marilyn passed away after a battle with cancer late last year. Ronnie spruced up the old tunes and added a few more, noting in the program that the music was in honor of her late friend. After getting the community board’s approval, she sought a venue. The clubhouse just isn’t big enough, so she booked the Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center (now the Southwest Florida Event Center) just outside the gates for one night. Tickets were $100 a pop. The one-night show sold out within a day.
The Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center is where the likes of Don McLean and Jerry Lewis perform. On a Thursday morning in April, it’s a troupe of local thespians.
The one-and-only dress rehearsal starts at 9 a.m., but most people are there a half-hour early. Makeup assistants look for men without lipstick. Groups go over lyrics and pacing. An American flag reworked in shades of pink and green is put in place above the stage. It will be unfurled during the Lilly Pulitzer tribute number. Sue Yellin is the stand-in for Lilly. She’ll don a blond wig and sing a solo number. But that’s just one of the three skits she’s in, and another one needs more work.
“Putt-a-little” is heard over the din.
“We’re 99.999 percent sure it’s good,” she says and goes back to practicing with the group.
Aside from the few audio issues, the dress rehearsal goes smoothly. A few missed lines, a few timing kinks to work out. The pink and green flag got caught on itself and didn’t unfurl correctly. Another layer of confusion is added with the audio and visuals, which remains a stumbling block throughout the rehearsal and puts the cast on-edge. Will it work out? The next couple of days will be a whirlwind of last-second changes and run-throughs and costume touch-ups. But before they leave, Ronnie gathers the cast center stage:
“What a privilege it was to work with all of you. We all stepped out of our comfort zones here. Some had done this before. Some had never done it. Some had only done it in the shower. Lots of us here ended up friends with people we’d never thought we’d be friends with. So, for that, I just want to thank you all.”
Backstage, night of the big show. Out front, guests are more than an hour early, drinking cocktails and bidding in a silent auction whose proceeds will all go toward the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
The green room isn’t so green, but there are veggie platters and a few chairs and the smell of meatballs coming from the nearby kitchen. A golf pro, who makes a cameo, is giving swing tips. Most of the cast pace about and mutter to themselves.
Bob Ractliffe introduces the production.
Bob Ractliffe is one of them. He never imagined being here. But one day, he was walking his dog by Ronnie’s house when she stopped him. She explained the scenario. He demurred. He hadn’t sung in years. Well, there’s a spot for an announcer and the charming Brit would be perfect. A week later he gets a call from Ronnie: We need a man for a skit; could you make it happen?
Well, OK …
Another week, another call: There’s another opening, could you …
Sure, Ronnie, sure.
A few weeks later, an email arrives at midnight. Guess who?
Before he knew it, he was a prime cast member.
Tony Miller has a similar story. The orthopedic surgeon was more of an athlete than an actor in his younger days. (He’s actually in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and University of Florida Sports Hall of Fame.) But one day, he swung by play practice to pick up his wife when Ronnie cornered him. We need more men, she said. He also demurred. Well, she continued, we need tall, slender, attractive men in particular …
Ah, flattery will get you everywhere.
Now, here the two men are, backstage, practicing how to tip a hat properly for the final number.
Showtime. The laughs start just about the time the curtain goes up. The “putt-a-littles” actually stay on time. The pink and green flag unfurls in a blaze of glory. Balloons drop during the curtain call, and the cast gets a big standing ovation at the end. Cast and audience mingled well after midnight (the actual midnight, not the Mediterra one) back in Mediterra for the after-party.
“I felt the electricity in that room,” Ronnie says. “You have that feeling of everybody getting together for the same purpose.”
All in all, it ended up raising $23,000 for the foundation. Ronnie was getting thank-you notes and donations days after the performance.
No one’s talking about a second career onstage. Life will return to normal.
They’ll go back to singing to themselves. Just maybe they’ll be walking into the clubhouse when they get a “Hey, weren’t you in …” And they’ll share a laugh with someone they may have never met before. Another bond formed.