New play depicts the life of Ernie Harwell
By Scott Pohl, WKAR News
DETROIT, MI –
This is probably the most recognizeable voice in Michigan history.
"Here's the pitch on the way. It's a STRIKE called! Ooooh, he stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by, struck him out."
Ernie Harwell called Detroit Tigers games on the radio for decades.
Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom has written a play about the late Hall-of-Fame broadcaster. It opens in Detroit tonight.
Will Young took on the lead role. "Ernie" is set at Comerica Park, with Harwell talking about his life with a young fan.
"Ernie" opens tonight at the City Theatre in Detroit. It will run until at least June 26th.
Young spoke with WKAR's Scott Pohl about playing Ernie Harwell in the city that loves him even after his death.
WILL YOUNG: "You listen to Ernie and you think, you know, I know that man. I've had people come up to me and say he was like my grandfather growing up, my grandfather was gone but I would listen to Ernie and he was like your grandfather, he was like your dad who wasn't there, he was like this wonderful uncle that just kind of came into your house, and you just felt an immediate closeness to him."
SCOTT POHL: "As an actor, there are certain challenges, some I can imagine some people wanting to run away from, and this could be one I suppose. I want to ask you about the notion of accepting this role, or seeking this role in a city like Detroit. I think a case can be made that there is no more beloved figure in Detroit history than Ernie Harwell. Was that a roadblock in any way to your consideration of taking this role?"
YOUNG: "It absolutely was, Scott. When Mitch called me, or his office called me, and asked if I would come in for the audition, I thought, man, whoever winds up with this, and I certainly didn't think at that point it was going to be me, I thought whoever does this is going to be setting themselves up to get kicked every which way from Wednesday, because people are going to come in with certain expectations, and you know, I've finally gotten to the point where that's OK by me. My best shot at representing him, and being true to Mitch Albom's script and Tony Caselli's directing, and working with my buddy T.J. Corbett as the kid on stage is, that's what it's going to be, but no, that's the first thing, I think, that hit anybody's mind. How do you take on a role of somebody that is that beloved and that everybody feels they know personally? So, we're going to do a good job with it, though."
POHL: "I can imagine people seeing this play, one of the first things they're going to do is close their eyes for a while and listen to the voice. So, I have to ask you to what extent are you trying to capture the voice, the accent, of Ernie Harwell?"
YOUNG: "There's a four-disc set of, I think it's called The Ernie Harwell Scrapbook, so I listened to that and listened to it, listened to it, and what I tried to do was pick up Ernie's cadences, his rhythms, try to place the voice in Ernie's vocal range, and not trying to be a mimic of Ernie during the conversations that I have with the boy onstage, or during Ernie's storytelling so much. It comes in more during some of the places where Ernie does some of his calls. Then, we try to slip into more of a duplication of Ernie's voice, but always the Georgia twang is still there a little bit."
POHL: "I have to ask you if you can try to give me a little of that. Can you do that?"
YOUNG: (Spoken with his Ernie Harwell voice) "And there's a high, loping curve ball, wide outside, and Kaline looks at it, doesn't move his bat, and it's two and two."
POHL: "Pretty good, pretty good! Better than I could do! I can imagine people hearing about this show, planning to go to this show, more than any other show in recent memory in the city of Detroit, are hoping that it's good, hoping that it's a success. Do you have that sense from talking with people prior to opening night?"
YOUNG: "The sense that I get, Scott, is that everybody is just giving themselves to it and saying OK, we're going to go and this is going to be a fabulous visit back in time with Ernie Harwell. We're putting a lot of wonderful memories into the show, and a lot of fabulous audio-visual material, it's a multimedia show. I'm hoping people will just come in and even if they're skeptical, will just relax and say OK, here we go, let's just enjoy this ride."