Charissa Bertels stars in  My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend  at MRT from April 26-May 21. PHOTO COURTESY MEGHAN MOORE
Charissa Bertels stars in My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend at MRT from April 26-May 21. PHOTO COURTESY MEGHAN MOORE

What happens when you reach out to someone different from yourself? And how does it impact your life?

That's what 20-something actress Charissa Bertels discovers in the delightful new musical, "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend," a show based on her real-life friendship with 80-something millionaire Milton.

Conceived by Bertels, with book and lyrics by Christian Duhamel, and music and lyrics by Edward Bell, it wraps up Merrimack Repertory Theatre's season with performances April 26-May 21.

The show isn't a love story. Instead, it's the story of an unlikely friendship between two people, 60 years apart in age, who reach out to each other and discover joy through a close, personal connection.

"The events of this story pushed me to realize that you can't wait," said Bertels, who toured the country with "If/Then" and made her Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated "A Christmas Story."

Milton first approaches the struggling actress Charissa when she is peddling juice samples in a New York grocery store. She's not sure what to make of him when he approaches her -- much less when he cracks jokes, recites poetry or invites her back to his high-rise apartment. She reluctantly accepts the invitation, and it launches a friendship and self-discovery that neither could see coming.

Bertels pondered turning their story into a play for several years.


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"I first met Milton in 2010, and we didn't start writing the show until 2014," she said. "I'd always wanted to do a one-woman show, and it hit me that an intergenerational friendship with someone who is not your grandparent would be good to turn into a show."

Rehearsal audiences are laughing and crying tears of joy, said director Sean Daniels, MRT's artistic director.

"You assume you have little in common with someone much older or much younger," said Daniels. "But when you stop and look closer, you may find endless points of connection you never dreamed were there. It shows the beauty of extending ourselves with compassion and an open mind."

Tickets are $26-$70 at www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.

On the marquee

LOCAL TIES: Back in the early '90s, Pablo Velez Jr., of Lowell, made his mark on the local entertainment scene as one of the kids on "Zoom," a popular PBS show produced and filmed at WGBH in Boston. Velez went on to work in Hollywood and now has made his mark as a producer. His family film, "Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket," filmed two years ago on the island, is being screened in its theatrical debut this week at the Fine Arts Theatre Place in Maynard. According to Velez, the film is a fun-filled family movie, "Goonies meets Nancy Drew for all ages." Screenings are Thursday, April 20, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, April 21, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 23, 12:15 p.m. Visit http://fineartstheatreplace.com for info.

SPRING STAGES: Westford Academy Theater Arts presents "Spring Awakening," a musical that explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood among a group of late 19th-century German teens. It is both illuminating and daring, as it celebrates youth, rebellion and coming of age. Directed by Michael Towers in the Westford Academy Performing Arts Center, performances are April 28, May 5, 11 and 12, at 7:30 p.m., and April 29 and May 6, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. $18, adults; $12, seniors/students; all matinee tickets are $12 at www.MKtix.com/wata ... Actors Inc. presents the beloved musical "Mary Poppins" this weekend at the Performing Arts Center of Chelmsford High School. Performances are Friday, April 21, 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 22, 1 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, April 23, 1 p.m. Tickets $25-35-45 at 978-984-3151 or www.actorsincorporated.com. Proceeds benefit Megan's House.

CLASSICAL NOTES: The Orchestra of Indian Hill concludes its 42nd season with "The Four Seasons by Vivaldi," a classical favorite, Saturday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m., at Littleton High School, 56 King St. Concertmaster Alice Hallstrom is the featured soloist on the iconic work. Also featured is 15-year-old pianist Justin Gu of Andover, winner of Indian Hill Music School's 2017 Student Concerto Competition. Tickets $20-$35-$50 at 978-486-9524, ext. 116, or www.indianhillmusic.org. ... The Essex Chamber Music Players present "The Breath of Spring" concert Sunday, April 23, at 2 p.m., at Hartleb Technology Center, 100 Elliott St., on Northern Essex Community College's Haverhill campus. Works by Kennedy, Thomas and Martinu will be featured. $15 general admission, free for NECC students and children.

Nancye Tuttle's email address is nancyedt@verizon.net.