For generations he has been one of B.C.’s most familiar, and beloved, faces – and voices.
BC Entertainment Hall of Fame member Norm Grohmann is still recognized by many from his 25-year stint as the dryly humorous weatherman on BCTV’s nightly NewsHour, from the 1970s through the 1990s.
Fans of off-the-wall comedy also know him from years as a core member of the CBC radio troupe Dr. Bundolo’s Pandemonium Medicine Show.
As a veteran radio DJ and voice actor, Grohmann’s career stretches all the way back to 1954, when he first started with Chilliwack station CHWK, before moving to Vancouver and spending years with CKNW.
He has an unmatched reputation as a witty extemporary speaker, which has served him well as an emcee at golf tournaments and other events.
But now, at a youthful 87 years old, the actor and singer is taking on a new role in White Rock for a three-performance run at Peninsula Productions’ black box theatre in Centennial Park.
Grohmann stars in the staged reading of the hit Doug Curtis comedy Mesa, which runs Friday, March 24 at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 25 at 2 p.m., and Sunday March 26 at 2 p.m. at the theatre, adjacent to the ice rink at the park, at 14600 North Bluff Rd. (16 Avenue).
In the play, directed by Suzanne Hepburn, Grohmann is cranky 93-year-old Bud, who is being driven from Calgary to his retirement trailer in Mesa, Ariz. by his granddaughter’s husband, Paul (played by writer/actor Chris Schuessler).
It’s a distinctly ‘odd couple’ teaming for a road trip (interestingly, Grohmann, also a veteran of musical theatre, including productions of The Sound of Music and The Music Man, last appeared on stage as Felix Unger in an Arts Club production of The Odd Couple).
And there are all the inevitable clashes of a road trip comedy/drama in Mesa.
Paul, at heart a romantic, and seeking an escape from growing tensions in his relationship with his wife, Karen, imagines a circuitous route to their destination, during which he and Bud can discover little-known roadside diners, and maybe even sleep under the stars.
The grumpy Bud, however, increasingly at the mercy of his aging bladder, craves familiarity – the Interstate highway, Motel 6 and eating at Denny’s.
At the same time, Curtis’ warm and witty script allows the audience to see Bud and Paul’s gradual discovery of each others’ hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations along the way.
Peninsula Productions’ executive director Janet Ellis said Grohmann is a delight to work with.
“He’s very funny,” she added. “We’re fortunate to have him with us for this show.”
The Tsawwassen-based actor, in turn, said he appreciated being asked by Ellis to do the show, and is enjoying the opportunity to work with Peninsula and rehearsing with Schuessler and Hepburn to discover the nuances of the characters.
“To use an old cliché, the script is growing on me,” he said.
“With the help of our director we’ve been able to get below the top layer of the words, and reach the characters feelings underneath.”
He said he can relate to Bud, and his desire to pass on some basic wisdom to Paul.
“I’m 87 and he’s 93 – there’s not a heck of a lot of difference between us, although he has a few problems I haven’t encountered yet.
“Bud is the one to say to the younger man, ‘you need to get your priorities straight – here’s the two or three things I’ve learned that are the most important in life.’ If you get those right, then everything else falls into place.”
But such messages in the play are leavened with humour, he noted.
“There are laughs and there are also moments that are close to tears – it runs the whole gamut.”
Asked where he grew up, Grohmann’s first response is “I haven’t yet.”
But he will admit that his earliest years were spent in the Maple Ridge-Hammond area.
“I’ve been an entertainer all my life, but I never got paid to do it until I got into radio,” he said.
“I was always a fan of radio – I used to listen to all the comedy shows, like Jack Benny and Fibber McGee.”
Right out of high school, he was applying to radio stations as far afield as Kelowna and Victoria for any kind of entry-level position, inspired by a high school friend, who had already started doing the same thing.
Ironically, he made it into the industry, and his friend didn’t, he noted.
When CHWK hired him, it was as a ‘continuity’ writer for announcements and links, but it wasn’t too long before he got opportunities to appear on air.
“I did everything from announcements of funerals to presenting recorded music,” he said.
“There was a fellow named Alec Moir who had this children’s show in the afternoons. One day I was doing my usual thing, clowning around and annoying people, but for some reason I was using a Swedish accent.
“He said ‘can you do that on the air?’ So we made up this whole thing about a Swedish guy visiting a farm, and I ended up doing all the animal sounds, too.”
As a former radio man, it might seem that working script-in-hand would be very familiar to him.
But Grohmann acknowledges this is the first time he has ever participated in a staged reading.
“When Janet first suggested it to me, I asked what a staged reading was – I hadn’t heard of that before.”
He said that while it sounds easier – since the script is always in hand – it actually creates a different set of challenges for the actor.
“I’ve done many shows on stage where I’ve memorized lines and the ‘blocking’ of movement, but in some ways this has a greater degree of difficulty, because you don’t have that freedom of being able to move around – you have to project everything from a sitting position,” he said.
He’s enjoying the process, however, he said.
“I’m having a blast with it,” he laughed. “Who knows, it may lead to a full-time job in radio.”
For more information, call 604-536-8335 or visit peninsulaproductions.org.
For tickets, visit showpass.com
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