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Come Out Swingin’! to premiere at the Franco Center

Come Out Swingin’! a new musical set in Lewiston during the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston heavyweight championship boxing match, will be presented at the Gendron Franco Center, November 22 to 24. 

It’s the spring of 1965, two weeks before Ali?then still widely known as Cassius Clay—is scheduled to defend his heavyweight title in a rematch against the notorious Liston. Controversy surrounding Liston and some licensing problems in Massachusetts have forced the promoters to quickly find another venue for the fight. They choose St. Dom’s Arena (now the Androscoggin Bank Colisée) in Lewiston, just about the unlikeliest venue ever for a heavyweight championship bout!

A co-production of the Franco Center and the L-A Community Little Theatre, the show is about a lot more than boxing. “It’s a musical comedy with lots of laughs, and it’s set against the tectonic shifts happening in America in the 1960s,” says Brian Daly, who wrote the show. “But beneath the fun on the surface, it invites the audience to recognize our common humanity.”

“It’s more a story of the people of Lewiston and their reaction to that historic event. It’s really a story about Lewiston,” notes Richard Martin, who is directing the show. He points out that the full title of the show is “ ‘Come Out Swingin’; A Lewiston Story,” because the real focus is on how Lewiston residents coped with all the excitement, media scrutiny, and how visitors perceived the city and its residents. 

In the show we meet Lewiston City Hall staffer Mickey St. Pierre (played by Zachariah Stearns), who thinks the fight could really put Lewiston on the map. While he works to gin up enthusiasm for the fight among local residents and to get the city ready for all the big-time sportswriters and other celebrities who will be descending on Lewiston, he discovers that professional hit men may be coming to Lewiston to murder Ali in the ring.

Some of the other colorful characters in the show include Rita (Lucy Poland), a wisecracking owner of a Lewiston coffee shop; Phil the barber (Ernie Gagne) and his grumpy wife, Germaine (Bre Allard); Sarge the Lewiston cop (Dan Crawford); local know-it-all “Teddy One Thing” (Bill McCue); and a bombastic stripper named Boom Boom Vavoom (Erin Marenghi).

“Then the big night comes, and everything goes wrong,” according to the musical’s synopsis. “Robert Goulet mangles the national anthem, Liston appears to take a dive, referee Jersey Joe Walcott mishandles the count, the fans cry ‘Fix!’ and the fight is over before Boom Boom gets a chance to strut her stuff.” 

The sportswriters who had nothing but praise for Lewiston turn on the community. That is when the people of Lewiston stand up for themselves. They were not responsible for this boxing fiasco. Other people blew it and then tried to blame the locals.

The show features twenty original songs written by Daly, a published author who has written other screenplays and stage productions, including the screenplay adaptation of his book “Big and Hairy” for a Showtime feature of the same title starring Richard Thomas.

Daly and Martin emphasize that the show maintains its unique Lewiston flavor throughout, even when the bizarre events threaten to spell disaster for the city. In the end, after the media circus has left town, Mickey and friends are prouder than ever to live and love in Lewiston, Maine!

“The Gendron Franco Center for Heritage, Culture, and the Performing Arts is rooted in the traditions of Maine’s French-speaking ancestors,” Martin says, “so it’s the perfect venue for this show. There are even a couple of scenes set in St. Mary’s Church, which is now the Franco Center!”

Performances of Come Out Swingin will be held on November 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and November 24 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $20.00 and available online at http://www.francocenter.org/events/come-out-swingin-2/. For more information, please call the Franco Center Box Office at (207) 689-2000.  

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