When Herb Weisburgh retired as a social worker back in 2000, he called his long-time friend Ed Munger to share the news and ask him, 'Well, what do you want to do?"
What they did was write a musical, "Love in Firenze," a piece of work that represents a 50-year partnership between the two men that began in 1968 with a single song, "April Times." They've been dabbling at writing music together ever since, and "Love in Firenze," a story about an American family vacationing in Florence, Italy, is the culmination of that long relationship.
They joined forces to write the story, with Munger creating the music and Weisburgh producing the lyrics. Their work will be performed as a full-scale production with five performances over four days Thursday through Sunday at The Addy at Proctors. Steve Suriano is the director.
Ed Munger, left, and Herb Weisburgh look over material for "Love in Firenze." (photo by Marilyn Weisburgh)
"I'm not sure how many 82-year-olds are going into a business like this for the first time," said Weisburgh, an Albany native and Guilderland resident who worked as a social worker in Schenectady and Amsterdam. "It's a huge undertaking, and we owe it to Steve for really getting us going. He told us, 'Look you guys, you're getting older. It's time to do something about this.' He's worked diligently with us over the last year to really help us put together a complete musical."
While Weisburgh typically wrote his music for the enjoyment of it, Munger was totally immersed in the music business. He played his guitar professionally at Proctors and several other venues around the Capital Region, and also gave private lessons while also teaching guitar at The College of Saint Rose and Union College.
"Herb has a real knack for writing lyrics, and I've been able to work along with him and come up with the tempos and the rhythms to go with his words," said Munger, who was born in Albany, grew up in Rensselaer and has lived in Schenectady since getting out of the U.S. Air Force in 1967. "He's been my partner writing music since 1968, and we've got some good responses, and some kind words over the years. Some of the music we've written over the years is included in this play."
When Suriano first read the play he liked it. Then he heard the music.
"There are some songs in this musical that are absolutely beautiful," said Suriano, who has directed and acted at a number of places in the Capital Region, including the Schenectady Light Opera Company, Classic Theater Guild, Confetti Stage and Albany Civic Theater. "It is so sad they were never recorded as singles because they could just stand alone by themselves."
Needed a director
While Munger and Weisburgh have dabbled at making music together since 1968, they seriously started working on this musical in 2003. In 2009 they entered their work in a "best new play" contest put on by the Colonial Little Theatre in Johnstown. When it was selected for a staged reading, the co-authors realized they suddenly needed a director. That's where Suriano came into the picture. Wally Truesdell, a member of the play selection committee at the Colonial Little Theatre, had his daughter Debbie ask Suriano, who she had worked with at the Classic Theater Guild, if he would be interested in directing the staged reading.
"We had done new play contests before, but we had never picked a musical," remembered Truesdell. "We really didn't know what to do with a musical, and those guys didn't know any directors. But we got Steve to direct and they did the reading. We were impressed. We knew this musical had a life beyond the Colonial Little Theater."
The play, originally called "September Deception," is about three sets of couples who fall in love.
"It's basically the same play, but yet it is very different from the original," said Weisburgh. "We've been tweaking it all along, and we'll probably keep on tweaking it. It's been fun working with the actors because they'll have a suggestion and we listen to them. They're talented, and a very committed group."
Weisburgh and Munger first met 50 years ago when Weisburgh decided it was time for him to learn the guitar. After purchasing a new instrument at Drome Sound in Schenectady, they sent him to see Munger for lessons.
"I asked them where I should go for lessons and they said they were sending me to the best guy in the area," Weisburg said, referring to Munger, who studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, the Peabody Institute in Baltimore under Aaron Shearer and with legendary Argentinian guitarist Jorge Morel in New York City. "Well, you wouldn't know it by the way I play today, but Ed is a great teacher, and after a few lessons we were just having a talk and the conversation came around to writing songs. I said, 'I write lyrics,' and he said, 'I write music.' I would give him some lyrics and he would give me some music. We really enjoyed working together and that hasn't changed."
Suriano, who co-authored his own play, "Twas the Land of the Night Before Christmas" with a friend, Bill Douglas of Rensselaer, knows what it's like to see your own work produced.
"I know what's involved in something like this, and I know it's a labor of love," he said. "To see what you've worked on come to fruition is a great feeling. It's been a labor of love for them and a fun process. I think they're really enjoying it."
The two principal characters in the show are Victor and Lucia, played by Phil Bruns of Cropseyville and Anna Starr of Schenectady. Joining them on stage along with Douglas will be Erin Zielinski of Albany, Mike Collins of East Berne, Miriam Miller of Northville and Jaynie Parmenter, a 2017 Voorheesville High School graduate and a winner in the Proctors High School Musical Theatre Awards. The logo design was created by Nathan Abbott. It features the figures of three couples from different generations inside a heart.
Ray Kim of Troy is the musical director and keyboard player, and Schenectady's Tom Aery will perform on the guitar and the mandolin.
'Love in Firenze'
WHAT: A musical by Ed Munger and Herb Weisburgh
WHERE: The Addy at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $22.50
MORE INFO: (518) 346-6204, or visit www.proctors.org