A new incarnation of a play that was so popular it sold out theaters and generated waiting lists will have its national debut Aug. 30 at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Mesa.
Titled “Pass It On ... An Evening with Bill W. & Dr. Bob,” the new show is based on “Bill W. & Dr. Bob,” by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey. That poignant, often funny, true story of two drunks whose relationship became the genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous has been in such demand, says Broadway Palm’s Gary Kimble, that the theater’s parent company, Prather Entertainment Group, has created a two-man version that can be performed with minimal cost and set-up.
The new version will allow the company to take the show to small venues across the nation, sometimes for just one or two nights. A marketing kit and consultation call center, staffed by women from Weldon House treatment center in Phoenix, will help nonprofit treatment and recovery programs build fundraisers around the show. After performing the original “Bill W. & Dr. Bob” last summer at the 75th annual International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous, Kimble says they were inundated with calls for the show. It was an opportunity to do even more good with a show that had already had a bigger impact than Kimble, who plays Bill Wilson, imagined.
“It’s been life changing. I’ve never been involved in a project that so touches the audience,” he says.
Kimble and his co-star, Richard Springle, who plays Dr. Bob Smith, are real-life friends and recovering alcoholics. Kimble credits Springle — who once broke open Kimble’s door, carried him down four flights of stairs and checked him into rehab — with saving his life.
The first time they produced the play, in Florida, “people working on the show actually got sober during the process, and it changed their lives. It changed their families,” recalls Kimble.
Three years later, “Pass It On” contains many scenes from the original play, which brought to life Wilson’s and Smith’s struggles to keep each other sober in stressful economic times of the 1920s and ’30s. New material reveals the history and development of AA in humorous monologues split between the two characters.
“The last thing we want to do is lecture anybody. We’re very careful to make sure it’s entertaining; it’s a play first. And, listen, these men were in no way saints; they were a couple off-the-wall, fall-down-drunk kind of guys,” says Kimble.
“Pass It On” has already been requested in 43 cities and on 40 cruise ships, and a film crew has included Kimble and Springle in an upcoming documentary about recovery to be released to PBS and the BBC. Plans are to present the show off-Broadway, in New York, in 2012 to raise treatment scholarships for Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center.
The Mesa debut is presented by The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and it will be a fundraiser for Weldon House. That facility helps women who have left abusive relationships recover from addiction and gain life skills to support themselves and their children.
Kimble says the play’s creators will likely fine tune the show after getting feedback from East Valley audiences. Talkback sessions will be held after each performance for anyone who would like to stay.
“I talk about my own alcoholism, as does Richard, and sometimes the audience opens up, too. Beyond the alcoholism theme, it’s a story of hope. It’s about overcoming obstacles and finding connections with other people to make life better and more bearable.”
Kimble says the uplifting story has given him something he’s grateful for — getting to work on theater that makes a difference for people.
“Doing our craft as service has been amazing. As an artist in the theatre, it doesn’t get any better,” he says.
“Pass It On ... An Evening with Bill W. & Dr. Bob” runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 5247 E. Brown Road, Mesa. Tickets are $20 and qualify as a tax-deductible donation to Weldon House. For information, show times and tickets, call (480) (480) 325-6700 or visit www.broadwaypalmwest.com
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