Show based on Carol Burnett’s memoir concludes Belfry’s 2011-12 season
The personal details of Carol Burnett’s upbringing and early career are the basis for the final adult production of the 2011-12 season at the Belfry Theatre, 10690 Greenfield Ave., Noblesville.
“Hollywood Arms” was adapted from Burnett’s best-selling memoir “One More Time.” Written by Burnett and her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, the dramedy is set in Hollywood, Calif., in 1941 and 1951, and centers on the heartbreak and laughter shared by three generations of women living on welfare in a dingy apartment house.
“Upon my first reading, this play grabbed my attention and held it to the end. The humor and heartbreak is based on the memoir of one of the funniest women in American entertainment history – Carol Burnett,” said director Elaine Wagner. “Its theme of pursuing dreams is universal, but to see all that she had to overcome – the poverty, the abuse, her parents’ alcoholism and illness – and to see her come out of all that with talent, drive, humor and a generous spirit is truly inspirational.”
The cast of characters, based on Burnett and her real-life relatives, includes no-nonsense grandmother Nanny; Louise, a beautiful, alcoholic mother determined to be a writer for movie magazines; Jody, an absent father who is struggling with his own demons; and Helen (Burnett), a young girl whose only escape is the rooftop of their run-down building, where she creates her own magical world and dreams of a successful show-business career.
“She overcame so many obstacles growing up and you see that in this show,” Wagner explained.
The show stars two Helens – as a child and 10 years later before she became a successful entertainer.
Elissa Maudlin, who recently completed fifth grade at Noblesville Intermediate School, is making her second appearance on the Belfry stage as the younger version of Burnett.
“I’ve only done kid plays like ‘Aladdin.’ This was a good thing for my acting to try this,” she said. “The play is pretty emotional, complex and dramatic.”
“She’s doing very well. She knew her lines before everybody else,” Wagner said about Maudlin. “She sings a little bit and she has a very pretty voice.”
The play also provided Maudlin with another first – dying her hair to better match Burnett’s famous red locks.
“I was a little upset at first because I didn’t think it would go back,” she said. “I like this a little better than my brown hair.”
Maudlin said she enjoys acting and hopes it leads to a profession later in life.
“I aspire to someday be on Broadway and live to be on the stage,” she said.
Maudlin stars in the first act and sets the stage for Jennifer Nicholson, music teacher at Noble Crossing Elementary School, as the older Helen in the second act.
“It’s fun to watch her – she has lots of energy,” Nicholson said of Maudlin. “She’s precocious and her spirit helped to form Carol Burnett as an adult.”
When things get too serious, Burnett would make a joke – similar to Nicholson.
“She’s a fan of Carol Burnett,” said Wagner. “She gets in that mode when she acts as Carol.”
Nicholson has acted in 12 to 15 Belfry shows and numerous Shakespeare in the Park productions. Although she hasn’t performed on the Belfry stage for a while, Nicholson was not going to pass on “Hollywood Arms.”
“This is one I will set other things aside because she was one of my childhood idols. It’s truly an honor to portray her,” she said. “It’s wonderful but very humbling as well. She’s been one of my idols since I first started watching her.”
Nicholson said Burnett’s story is full of life lessons and inspiration, despite the hardships she faced.
“It all shaped who she ended up being. You never would have known she rose above it,” she said. “I admire her all the more now.”