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'Say Goodnight, Gracie' at Playhouse Downtown

Joel Rooks stars as George Burns in the FRP production "Say Goodnight, Gracie" on stage through May 6 at Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown. Joel Rooks stars as George Burns in the FRP production "Say Goodnight, Gracie" on stage through May 6 at Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown.

FLAT ROCK — Renowned Broadway actor Joel Rooks is reprising his critically acclaimed role of the lovable George Burns in the Tony-nominated Best Play, "Say Goodnight, Gracie," at Playhouse Downtown.

Written by multiple Tony and Emmy award-winning writer Rupert Holmes, "Say Goodnight, Gracie," will also feature the acclaimed actress Didi Conn's estimable talents as the singular voice of Gracie Allen. Hailed by The New Yorker as both "touching and hilarious, and a showcase for an era," "Say Goodnight, Gracie" is onstage through May 6 at the downtown venue of Flat Rock Playhouse, located in Historic Downtown Hendersonville.

 In this 90-minute production, Rooks will take theater audiences on a guided tour through the 20th century, told through the eyes of Burns, whose life spanned 100 years of American entertainment history. Burns, the raconteur who savored each day from his impoverished youth on the lower East side to his career in Vaudeville, regales audiences with stories about his marriage to Allen, their rise to success on stage, screen, radio and TV, and ends his narrative touching upon his memorable "second time around." When Gracie Allen died in 1964, she and comedian George Burns had worked together for four decades and been married for 38 years. In "Say Goodnight, Gracie," we discover Burns in limbo between this world and the next, unable to join his beloved wife and partner until he gives the command performance of his lifetime for God.

"Say Goodnight, Gracie" is an unforgettable theatre experience, centering around one man's devotion to his wife: a woman who was his friend, his sweetheart, and his partner for life and beyond. A love story 100 years in the making, it induces tears of laughter and compassion as it tells the remarkable adventures of Burns, a scrappy kid from the absolute poverty of New York's lower East Side (whose neighbors included Fanny Brice and The Marx Brothers) who fought his way with song and dance into Vaudeville. When Burns met the romance of his lifetime, the deliciously delirious Allen, the pair teamed up as both entertainers and lovers and rode a rainbow to stardom that led them on to the heights of Hollywood and into the homes of America. He recalls their instant chemistry; the combination of his flawless timing was a perfect mate to her dizzy delivery. He recounts his wooing of her, their marriage and their rise to the pinnacles of vaudeville, movies, radio and television. Gracie's death forced George to start from square one in life and in his career, eventually achieving an equal level of success as a solo raconteur and Academy Award-winning actor, portraying everything from a Sunshine Boy to God.

Playwright Rupert Holmes celebrates the life of America's funniest centenarian in this life-affirming one-man show. Holmes, whose other Broadway credits include "Curtains," "Accomplice" and "Solitary Confinement," is the first person in theatrical history to win the Tony Award for Best Book, Best Music and Best Lyrics for his Tony award-winning musical "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Holmes' popular songs have been recorded by many of our greatest vocalists, most notably and frequently Barbra Streisand, for whom he has written, arranged, conducted and produced multi-platinum albums, including "Lazy Afternoon" and his songs for the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack of "A Star Is Born." He is still probably best known to the general public as the singer and songwriter of the number one pop hit from 1979/1980, "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" and the song "Him," which reached the number 6 position in 1980.

Joel Rooks first performed the role of George Burns on Broadway as understudy to the late Frank Gorshin. Other Broadway credits include "Taller Than A Dwarf" directed by Alan Arkin, "The Tenth Man," "The Sisters Rosensweig" and the voice of the late night DJ in "Frankie and Johnny in The Claire de Lune." Some of the many Off-Broadway productions he has done include "The Secret Order," "Rocket to the Moon," "Jewtopia," "Iron," "Comic Potential," "Requiem for a Heavyweight," "Richard II," "School for Scandal," "After The Rain" and the New York Theater Workshop's Obie award-winning production of "More Stately Mansions." Films include "It Runs In The Family," "The Sightseer," "Why George?," "On The Run," "American Blue Note," "The Gig" and "His and Hers." TV Credits include "Copshop," "Ed," "The Beat," "Winchell," and many appearances on all the various versions of "Law & Order," and an assortment of doctors, lawyers and cops on several daytime dramas. He is a member of Ensemble Studio Theater, Circle East and New River Dramatists. He has been a guest teacher in the theater departments at NYU, the Mason-Gross School at Rutgers University and at the Hogeschool in Eindhoven, Holland.

Didi Conn is best known for her starring role in the film, "You Light Up My Life," and as Frenchy, the beauty school dropout in "Grease" and "Grease II." She recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of "Grease" by writing "Frenchy's Grease Scrapbook - We'll Always Be Together." Conn has recorded hundreds of commercials for radio and television.

Evening performances of "Say Goodnight, Gracie" are 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and matinee performances at 2 p.m. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $35 with discounts available for seniors, AAA members, military personnel, students and groups. Tickets can be purchased, by calling the Playhouse box office at 828-693-0731, toll-free at 866-732-8008 or online at Playhouse Downtown is at 125 S. Main St., Hendersonville.