‘Assisted Living: The Musical’ delves into aging

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NAPLES, Fla. — A man and a woman walk into a strip-mall restaurant packed full of retirees, and start chatting about sagging breasts, lost dentures and how everyone there is standing at death’s door.

What’s the punchline?

Rick Compton and Betsy Bennett implore you to find out in “Assisted Living: The Musical.” The singer-songwriter duo dares to poke fun at the aged in ways often off-limits on stage and screen — and audiences are laughing so hard they cry.

“It appears we’ve managed to make fun of Grandpa in a way that he likes,” Compton said.

Since opening this summer, the show has developed a strong following in Florida, with waiting lists weeks long and retirement communities calling to book private performances.

From the start of the hourlong show, the duo hammers away with jokes. They begin singing “Key Lime Pie” to the tune of “American Pie,” enthusiastically belting “This’ll be the place that I die! This’ll be the place that I die!” It is an unhesitant acknowledgment that there is only one exit point for many retirees who come to Florida.

From there, the topics include elderly romance, senior driving and Viagra. Among the song titles: “Help! I’ve Fallen for You and I Can’t Get Up,” “Nobody Loves You When You Suffer Gout,“ “I Got The Lost-My-Dentures-On-Steak-Night Blues“ and “Goin’ to the Chapel and I’m Gonna Get Buried.““

When the show turns to melanoma, they sing: “Got a spot on my nose. Lost a finger, three toes. They’ve amputated my bald spot. Don’t get brown much anymore.”

Dot Lingren, a 67-year-old former school administrator who retired in nearby Estero, is among those whose face lights up as she watches.

“They’re getting into issues that aren’t particularly funny, but they make them funny,” she said. “You don’t want to be obsessing over the sadness of it.”

Compton mostly stays behind the piano, while Bennett scampers through the audience, dons a grey wig and pushes a walker with tennis balls on the front legs.

“It’s not that we’re terribly good or talented, but it’s harmonic,” Compton said.

“And when you have a sense of humour about it, there is a lightness of the subject,” Bennett added.

They are no youngsters themselves — Compton is 59, Bennett 53 — though here in Naples, where the per centage of people over the age of 65 is more than three and a half times the national average, their portrait of youth is a bit skewed.

“There are shows about every other stage of life,” Compton said, “but nobody has done this phase.”

Various shows have addressed parts of the aging process, though not in the same way as “Assisted Living.”

Pete Townshend, guitarist and songwriter for The Who, is working on a new musical taking on issues of aging and mortality that he hopes to stage in New York in 2011.

Off-Broadway, “The Waverly Gallery” won acclaim in 2000 for its dramatic portrayal of an elderly woman’s decline and her family’s struggle to deal with it. More recently, “Assisted Loving” has looked at later-in-life love and “Menopause The Musical” has delivered laughs for a younger audience.

On a recent evening, Compton and Bennett performed to a sold-out crowd in a strip mall restaurant, receiving a standing ovation from an audience full of wrinkles and grey hair. But something was a bit different this time.

“This crowd isn’t as old as we’re used to,” Compton said. “There’s no oxygen tanks.”


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