“Ernie”

“Ernie”

On Deck and On Stage at the Polk Theatre

BY MARIA IANNUCCI

The Polk Theatre is raising the curtain on a brand new project; one like they have never undertaken since the opening of the then vaudeville/movie palace in 1928. Leslie Sikora, the venue’s president and chief executive officer since 2010, recently announced that, for the first time, the Polk Theatre will be producing a play for a three-week stint on its historical stage. Written by Mitch Albom, author of “Tuesdays with Morrie”; “Ernie” is set on Ernie Harwell’s last night at Comerica, 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.”

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“ ‘Ernie’ is a play that has a wonderful and profound message about relationships and human kindness,” said Sikora. “The best part is that whether you are a baseball fan or not, you will love this play.”

Generally, the Polk Theatre is considered, by definition, a presenting house, not a production house. Instead of bringing a typical one-night show to the stage; “This is basically a three-week run of a play,” said Sikora.

The show has run for three consecutive years at The City Theatre in Detroit, home of the Detroit Tigers who hold their Spring Training in Lakeland each year. Bringing the show to Lakeland was no accident. Each year the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce makes a pilgrimage to Detroit and the group generally attends a game, takes tours of the City, and has the option of seeing the “Ernie” play.

“In 2012, after they attended the play, Bill Tinsley and Barney Barnett thought it would be great to bring the play to the Polk,” said Sikora. “They called me and I spoke with someone from the production team about the possibility. At that juncture, it was decided it was too difficult to bring to Lakeland because it had been created to fit City Theatre in Detroit, and couldn’t really be moved without harming the integrity of the set. During the 2013 Chamber trip, Bill and Barney couldn’t let it go, thank goodness, because they felt it would be a popular show for Lakeland due to all of the local interest and seasonal Tigers’ fans in Lakeland. Somehow, they met with all the right people on that trip, including Mitch Albom, the playwright; and it was agreed to make the effort. So some of the production people traveled to Lakeland for a site visit and felt it was definitely doable. It was destiny!”

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When considering the magnitude of producing a full-scale production for almost a month, it’s anticipated that this endeavor will have a long-standing impact on what the Theatre can bring to the community.

“In the natural progression of things, an attempt to have a run of the play, or at least experiment with having a run is exciting, and nerve-racking all at the same time,” said Sikora. “We’ll learn a lot about whether it is logical for us to do this in the future.” Sikora is grateful for the opportunity to bring the production to Lakeland, and cites some partnerships for helping to make it possible.

“Bill Tinsley, the liaison to the Tigers’ organization from the City was instrumental in bring ‘Ernie’ to the Theatre,” said Sikora. “Ron Myers, Detroit Tigers Director of Florida Operations, has helped us with tremendous marketing and is helping secure ball players to introduce, and be present, at some of the shows. Also within the City, Kevin Cook, Director of Communications, has been helping to get the word out about the show as well. The partnership, at this point, is a group effort to market the show throughout the Central Florida region. You don’t have to be a Tigers fan to enjoy the play!”

 

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