“Tuesdays With Morrie” Brings The Tears As Opener At New Jewish Theatre

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Andrew Michael Neiman as Mitch gives James Anthony as Morrie a kiss on the forehead for “extra credit” in “Tuesdays With Morrie” at New Jewish Theatre.

No matter how many times you see the Mitch Albom two character play, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” the sniffling and outright crying can always be heard at play’s end. This one is no different as New Jewish Theatre opens their new season with a great cast and excellent direction.

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Andrew Michael Neiman as Mitch Albom in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

Based on his real life and the best selling book of the same name, Mitch Albom, along with collaborator Jeffrey Hatcher, has written a play for the ages. A quick ninety minutes, so much wisdom and love is expressed in such a short time. Morrie Schwartz was Mitch’s professor who he immediately disliked but took his course because of the grading philosophy of Mr. Schwartz. A bond began to form and, although Mitch promised he would keep in touch with his friend, his change of career allowed sixteen years to pass before he got back in touch due to an interview Morrie did with “60 Minutes.”

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Andrew Michael Neiman as Mitch visits Morrie, played by James Anthony for the last time in “Tuesdays With Morrie” at New Jewish Theatre.

Through a rekindling of the friendship, Mitch soon found that his new career didn’t matter as much as his weekly visit with Morrie, who had developed ALS- Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Though he had risen to the top of the sportswriting business, he found his trips to the World Series, basketball finals and everything in between became something he could schluff off to his cohort if it interfered with his regular Tuesdays (the day his classes always met) with his dying friend.

Andrew Michael Neiman handles the role of Mitch Albom with aplomb. Showing his nasty and negative side both while in college and later in life, he is able to learn life lessons all over again with the pithy remarks from his old professor. Lines like “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live” and “the most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and let it come in,” form a basis for living a decent and respectful life that has eluded Mitch along the way. That transition that Mr. Neiman makes as Mitch is wondrous to behold.

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Andrew Michael Neiman as Mitch talks with Morrie, played by James Anthony during the New Jewish Theatre production of “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

Veteran actor who we haven’t seen in a while, James Anthony, delivers a gentle yet strong performance. His quiet and understanding attitude belies the life lessons he is almost “spoon feeding” Mitch. His agony with this debilitating disease is truly remarkable from the early stages to the eventual bed ridden angst he feels as he continues to lift Mitch’s spirits- even in death. The two together are just phenomenal as the professor continues to school his pupil on much more than the sociology degree Mitch eventually earned.

Director Anna Pileggi uses a deft hand in telling this tearjerker of a story. She never lets things get too far out of hand and manages to get these two actors to reveal their strengths and weaknesses along the way. Christie Johnston’s set design features a slightly askew bookcase as a backdrop for the professor’s study- perhaps a tribute to the way he taught and the life he led. A turntable changes that study into a hospital bed for Morrie’s final, sage advice. Michael Sullivan’s lighting design enhances the proceedings and the costumes designed by Michele Friedman Siler are perfection.

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Andrew Michael Neiman as Mitch consoles James Anthony as Morrie in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

This is a play that we’ve seen a few times in the past and it never fails to bring the desired result- a definite hanky moment. But along the way we learn so much about life, love and the way to successfully approach both. “Tuesdays With Morrie” plays at the New Jewish Theatre through October 22nd. See two fine actors wring every bit of emotion from a more than willing audience. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.

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