The Last Act at the Renaissance

Most of the cast of "The Last Act" from left to right: Colton Penwell, Maddie Penwell, Ryan Shreve, Lori Turner, Jacob Poiner, Stephanie Hayslip and Kenneth Harvey. 

MANSFIELD – After more than three decades in the entertainment industry, Michael Thomas has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It's the latter two experiences Thomas has channeled into a new musical debuting at the Renaissance's Theatre 166 space this weekend.

"The Last Act" is billed as "a musical of disastrous proportions," gleaned from every unsettling experience that has happened to Thomas over the last 35 years.

"People love it when you go to a show and something goes wrong," Thomas said. "At the end of the day, I didn't want to make fun of people who are not good at what they do, but instead explore this desire people have to perform even if the universe is saying, maybe we don't want you."

"The Last Act" is not the only original musical comedy from Thomas to premiere at the Renaissance. "Hot Mess: A Lethal New Musical" had a sold-out run when it premiered in 2016, and returned for an encore performance in 2017.

Other original shows from Thomas include “Twilight Gardens,” “Remember Me Always: High School Yearbook 1977,” and “Sentimental Journey," all favorites of the Renaissance audience in recent years.

Thomas’ writing credits also include the popular Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and NBC’s “30 Rock.”

Overcoming all odds - and despite any visible trace of talent - "The Last Act" follows a delusional, quixotic director, an over-the-hill television star and a slapdash crew of oddballs and misfits claw their way to the bottom as they perform what is possibly the worst musical ever written.

The show explores and celebrates the urge to triumph in the face of adversity.

"That's why it's called 'The Last Act' - this is kind of everyone's last chance," Thomas said. "At one point Lori (Turner's) character says, 'I don't know why we do this,' and it's a realization some people come to when their career starts to dim a little bit."

Joining a cast of Renaissance veterans is Suzanne Bouchard, playing the starring role of "Claudine Marchand," an actress who is past her prime. Bouchard is a former classmate of Thomas' from their college days at Wright State University in Dayton, and flew in from Seattle, Wash., to take this role.

"In school, Michael was heads above everybody else in terms of talent - as an actor, a musician, and in acting he could do both drama and funny stuff effortlessly," Bouchard said. "He's so funny that I thought, I would jump at the chance to work with him."

Another former classmate from Wright State University, Kenneth Harvey, will also make his debut at the Renaissance. After Harvey expressed his jealousy over Bouchard and Thomas reuniting to work together, Thomas wrote a role for Harvey into the show.

"Now it's official, for better or for worse," Harvey said with a laugh. "I haven't performed in years, so I'm a little rusty."

However, Harvey has similar memories of Thomas from college.

"Michael's sense of humor and his talent in college were already completely developed, light years ahead of anybody else," he said. "He's funny, he's brilliant, it's a treat to work with him."

Rounding out the cast of eight is Maddie Penwell, Stephanie Hayslip, Colton Penwell, Jacob Poiner, Ryan Shreve and Lori Turner.

Having workshopped this piece for years, Thomas was able to write the characters to each of the actors' respective strengths. The cast has been an integral part of developing the script as well.

"It's a funny script, though I don't know that I was prepared for as much input as Michael wanted, this work-shopping of ideas," Harvey said. "But it's been fun to play with ideas and bring things to what's written on the page and make that come alive."

Thomas said, "It's a wonderful way to look at theatre in a different way. This isn't a script that has been tried and true in front of an audience, this stuff has never been spoken before. It's intimidating for some people, but these guys keep saying yes."

"The Last Act" will be presented at Theatre 166 on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $28 and are on sale now at the Renaissance Box Office, via phone at (419) 522-2726, and online at MansfieldTickets.com.

Journalism nerd. Adopted Shelby resident; Dayton native. Proud OSU alum. Coffee enthusiast.

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