Everything's new about world premiere


When Eric Gutman landed the role of God in the world premiere of Father Bingo, the 28-year-old Livonia actor thought his greatest challenge would be mastering the commanding voice. Gutman soon realized he was facing bigger problems. Gutman had always researched the originating role even before portraying Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills in his senior year.

The first time God appears before an audience will be Feb. 10-12 at Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit.

Written by William Nilsson, Father Bingo brings to life the politics that surround gambling in Detroit. One of the major players along with God is Father O'Neil. The priest is about to lose his church so he considers bingo as a way to raise money. That decision goes against what he stands for as head of an anti-gambling coalition which opposes the mayor's efforts to allow casinos. Original Vandellas Annette Helton and Rosalind Holmes add to the antics by playing the Bingo Mamas who live to play.


"It puts a lot of pressure on you. I thought the role would be of a gentleman with a booming voice. He's the exact opposite. I'm just a short Jewish kid from the suburbs," said Gutman, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater at Western Michigan University and continues to perform with the touring version of Forbidden Broadway after appearing in the production at the Century Theatre in Detroit.

"It's challenging to learn a brand new work. I only had the vision in the writer's script. I've never seen a step on the stage and now we're presenting this two-act musical, but I love the fact I'm originating a role and am able to originate it in Detroit, like Sweet Charity and Hello Dolly. To go along with that tradition is nice."

Rick Beyer is hoping to draw Broadway producers to the Detroit production. Touring agents from New York have said they will attend a performance and that's a start. As executive producer of Father Bingo, Beyer has dreamt of making the big time since first hearing his stepfather play the music on a piano in his Dearborn Heights home. Even though Beyer has lived in Washington, D.C., 10 years, the telecommunications executive would like to see the local production become successful. So far about 2,500 seats have been sold in 2 1/2 months.


Nilsson originally wrote the music for Mary Jane, his soprano wife who's active in productions with the Plymouth Theater Guild, now Spotlight Players. In addition to performances at Music Hall, Beyer's been responsible for the recording and mixing of the CD at Live Wire Music in Farmington Hills and Audio Post in Southfield.

Andrew Ingersoll, a Canton native, orchestrated the tunes that include It's Time For Me, I'm a Busy Guy, You Love Me and I Love You, and I'm Gonna Get That Man.

"Father Bingo is much like developing a new business," said Beyer. "We have the fundamentals of a great musical, a good script, good music," said Beyer. "We had to find investors and then hold auditions. We have big choirs and the music's lively. It's a very big sound complete with full orchestra."

Nilsson is new to writing musicals. At age 77, he formerly worked in computer design and integration until beginning Father Bingo in 1996. In his teens, Nilsson played the trumpet with bands covering Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey charts.

"The music for Father Bingo is a casserole, a balance of ballads, torch songs, Broadway show music," said Nilsson. "Some were easy to write, some were hard. Rick heard some of it around 2003. The next thing I knew I was writing a musical. There's a love interest, Mary Jane. God's under a lot of stress. God's always a busy guy and he's asked to help find Mary Jane a husband. It's been a lot of fun. God shows up and asks Father O'Neil why don't you put in bingo. The mayor finds out. It's mostly a comedy. I was laughing a lot."

Barbara Bloom hasn't stopped laughing since taking on the role of Sister Andrea, Father O'Neil's right hand nun "who pretty much runs the parish." Bloom finds it ironic that her last role was as a nun in The Sound of Music with Spotlight Players (formerly the Plymouth Theater Guild) last fall.


"She is a nun with a past. We don't know what that past is, but she seems to know how to do a lot of secular things," said Bloom, a former Canton resident now living in Novi. Bloom along with serving as vice president of Spotlight Players is active with Village Players in Birmingham where she directed and choreographed Rags last spring. This spring she is directing and choreographing Anything Goes for Spotlight Players. Auditions are Feb. 27-28. Visit www.spotlightplayers.net for details.

"It's a character role and a lot of fun," said Bloom, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in theater and communications from Wayne State University and has since appeared in more than 130 shows. She was in professional theater for more than a decade before owning dance schools. Today she works in creative services for Borders designing art for bookstores.

"It's a hoot, a fun entertaining evening. I'm sure native Detroiters will recognize some of the characters. It's loosely based on local politicians."

Debbie Lannen knew she had to direct the show after reading the script. She's been in theater since earning a bachelor of fine arts degree from Wayne State University and then directing children's shows at the Marquis Theatre in Northville and outreach programs for Michigan Opera Theatre.

"I grew up in Detroit and frequent the casinos so I have some real insight into this show," said Lannen, whose husband, Joseph, plays Father Bingo. Her son Tony, a member of the Detroit Symphony Civic Orchestra and Civic Jazz Band, wrote all of the bass lines and will be playing in the pit.

"People are going to have a good time. Plus it's a world premiere and getting the Vandellas was the coup. They're Motown. They have that sound I'm looking for as the Bingo Mamas, the ladies who always play bingo. They're there every night, every weekend."

Performances of Father Bingo run 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Feb. 10-11, and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 11-12, at Music Hall, 350 Madison, Detroit.

Tickets range from $19 to $49 and are available by calling (248) 645-6666. Private receptions take place after each performance and before the opening night show. Proceeds from receptions go to Music Hall. For group discounts, reception and corporate ticket packages, call (248) 981-7003.