George Judy -- actor, director, professor -- is a longtime champion of new plays. He has also performed "King Lear" three times. And he taught Sean Daniels acting at Florida State University over two decades ago, years before Daniels became Merrimack Repertory Theatre's artistic director and made it one of the country's pre-eminent theaters for new and world-premiere productions.
So it's no coincidence that Judy is working with Daniels at MRT in the world premiere of Lauren Gunderson's "The Heath."
Her autobiographical musical play pays tribute to her relationship with her late grandfather, his battle with Alzheimer's disease and her comparisons to King Lear, one of Shakespeare's greatest tragic figures. It plays Feb. 13-March 10 at MRT's Nancy Donahue Stage in Liberty Hall.
"Sean and I share a great interest in new plays and classical works," said Judy, now a theater professor at Louisiana State University.
He taught Daniels in the early to mid-1990s and recalls him as "a good student and quite the young entrepreneur, creating his own improv group. He was smart, clever and funny then, and now he has grown tremendously as a person and an artist."
Working on the world premiere of a play by Gunderson, one of America's most frequently produced playwrights and a regular at MRT (her previous shows here include "I and You," "Silent Sky" and "Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley") is a treat, too.
"The play is autobiographical and deals with her grandfather's dementia," Judy said. "She turned to Shakespeare's 'King Lear' to access the storm going on in her grandfather's brain -- it's an imaginative journey."
Even though Gunderson lives in California, she is watching rehearsals through Skype and will be here for the play's opening.
"She's giving us rewrites every day, and it's an exciting experience developing a new play," Judy said.
The description of "The Heath" on MRT's website notes that Gunderson "turns her prodigious storytelling skills on herself as she wrestles with how you make peace with a beloved relative who seems unlike you in every way."
Writing "The Heath" was therapeutic for Gunderson, as she processed the passing of her beloved PawPaw, whose Alzheimer's disease erased his ability to recognize family members.
"It's a love letter to him, an apology and a reckoning," she said, "as well as a chance to discover a man I thought I knew so well."
She added banjo music to the play in tribute to her Southern grandfather's love for bluegrass music.
She also, as Judy noted, turned to the raging storm in "King Lear" to address his dementia and its effect on the family.
"The storm represents the tumult of my grandfather's Alzheimer's disease. It also represents what I feel as my betrayal of my grandfather by not showing up for him enough when he was sick. His disease and death was a storm, and survivors like me are often left with the emotional wreckage afterwards."
Tickets for "The Heath" start at $24 and are available at 978-654-4678, at the box office or online at www.mrt.org.
Nancye Tuttle's email address is email@example.com.
IN THE WINGS
BRADY FAN ROCKS ON: Merritt David Janes is one happy dude at this point. The actor who plays the lead Dewey in "School of Rock" at Boston Opera House, Feb. 12-24, is a fan of the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. "I'm a huge Patriots fan, and I want to meet Tom Brady more than anything," he said last week by phone from Indianapolis. Brady came to see the show on Broadway. But Janes, unfortunately, was not there. It's killing him. "I missed Tom Brady by a month. I have my dressing room decked out for the Patriots. All I want is to meet Tom Brady," he said. Unfortunately, Brady and company will likely be basking in the sun somewhere warm when Janes and the large "School of Rock" crew, totaling 70, hit Boston. At least he'll be happy playing the Opera House. "I'm thrilled to lead the production into that gorgeous venue," said Janes, a Vermont native and UMaine music grad. He has been with the show from its start four years ago, playing on Broadway and its national tour. Based on the hit film, with a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show follows Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn a few extra bucks by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. There he turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. While teaching these pint-sized prodigies what it means to truly rock, Dewey falls for the school's beautiful, but uptight headmistress, helping her to rediscover the wild child within. "Andrew Lloyd Webber got involved with the show because of the empowering power of music," Janes said. "And I have the best of all things, going from studying to be a music teacher to playing a music teacher on tour. It's wild and wonderful." Tickets to "School of Rock" start at $44.50 and are available at 800-82-2787 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com.
ALL ROCK 'N' ROLL TO ME: Worcester's Hanover Theatre has a rock 'n' roll weekend lined up. On Friday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m., the classic rock act Three Dog Night perform their Top 40 hits, including "Joy to the World," "Black and White," "One," "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," "Celebrate," "Piece of April," "Shambala" and "The Show Must Go On." Tickets are $45-$75. Then, on Sat., Feb. 9, at 8 p.m., "Neil Berg's 50 Years of Rock & Roll Part 2" relives the best moments of music history through a variety of artists and genres from Motown and Funk to Elton John and Aerosmith. Tickets to are $45-$65. Call 877-571-7469 or visit www.thehanovertheatre.org.
HEARTS AND FLOWERS: The Chelmsford Jazz Ensemble plays tunes for sweethearts and anyone who loves the great American songbook at a Valentine's Concert on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 7 p.m., at Chelmsford Center for the Arts, 1A North Road. First-come, first-served seating at cocktail tables. $15, general; $10, members, seniors, students at www.chelmsfordarts.org.