Traverse City News and Events

Mitch Albom Brings Morrie, New Perspectives To Traverse City

By Luke Haase | July 30, 2022

Renowned and best-selling author, journalist, playwright, and musician Mitch Albom is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his blockbuster 1997 book Tuesdays With Morrie, and will bring the stage play of the same name to Traverse City for its Michigan debut August 10-14 at the City Opera House. We caught up with him while he was on one of his monthly visits to a Haiti orphanage he runs to hear why the play has never been seen in Michigan, his thoughts on his beloved Detroit, and how the lessons of his famous book have evolved over a quarter century. 

Ticker: Greetings from Traverse City. I know you’ve appeared here before, and this time you’re bringing a play to be seen for the first time in Michigan.
Albom: Not only have I appeared there, I’ve brought several shows there: Ernie the play, Hockey The Musical. I know what it’s like to be on stage there and know what it’s like to put on a show there.

Ticker: So why, though this play has been around 20 years and played around the world, has it never been shown in your home state?
Albom: So it’s kind of a weird story, but I wrote the play 20 years ago with Jeffrey Hatcher, the playwright. Back then the whole intention was to have it show in New York off Broadway, and we did that. It ran for a while and had a good, successful run with good reviews. After that they said, "let’s make a touring production.” They put together a list of cities and of course Detroit was on it. So we tried to find a theater [in Detroit] and a number of places were interested, and I knew people all those places. So who are you going to pick? You can only go to one theater. So it became awkward for me to pick a winner and losers. So we said we’d just wait and not do Michigan for now; just see how it goes in the rest of the country and figure it out later. Well, the national show kept going for years, and this sort of unofficial ban on Michigan just was continued and continued and the next thing you know, 20 years passed. So on the 25th anniversary of the book, someone said how about bringing the show to your home state? And of course I thought that was a great idea, so we’ll be in six different theaters around the state.

Ticker: I read a story in the Washington Post recently about [ESPN football journalist] Adam Schefter. I never knew he got his start as your research assistant. He said nice things, and it made me wonder who you look up to in writing?
Albom: Well, as for writing in general, there would be so many people it would take every piece of article you have. In screenwriting specifically, there are so many brilliant writers way better than me. In playwriting, I had never written a play before, and making a stage play is something different than a book. So I called my friend Dick Schaap, and he put me in touch with Herb Gardner, who wrote A Thousand Clowns and I’m Not Rappaport. He met me at his apartment and was not healthy. He was on oxygen. And here’s me, this nobody asking for advice, but he could not have been more gracious and so welcoming and so excited. And he said, "all plays are about someone wants something from someone else. If you keep that dynamic, you’ll have a successful play.” I was so humbled. So he was instrumental in upping my game. So was [co-playwright] Jeffrey Hatcher. But anything I’ve ever tried, I’ve admired somebody else who did it. That’s how I got started in writing and in music. Everything. 

Ticker: I’d love to hear your thoughts on Detroit. Twenty-five years ago, I was living downtown and was a bit of a pioneer doing that. But since then so much has changed.
Albom: Well, unlike you I have been right in the middle of it all, and I’ve witnessed it firsthand. We've had a shop right in Campus Martius for six years. It’s a dessert shop, the Detroit Water Ice Factory, where all profits go to Say Detroit. And it’s a window...on development in downtown Detroit. It’s just been amazing, the renaissance. And if COVID hadn’t hit it would have been even more so. It was climbing, climbing and then a plateau. And now I see the cranes going up at the new Hudson’s site a block away, the steel girders, the young people, the noise of the streets. It’s wonderful.

Ticker: Another Detroit question, this one in your wheelhouse. Of the major Detroit sports teams, which will be first to get to a championship? 
Albom: Oh, boy. I really don’t think any one of them will in the next three years. I would like to say the Red Wings are kind of primed to make a big jump. They’ve drafted well, but that takes time; those players are young. The Tigers…they’ve had a lot of years of rebuilding, drafted young players and then traded away a lot of their players, and many prospects didn’t pan out. I don’t know how long that rebuild going to take. The Pistons are a ways away but have good young core. The Lions…are just the Lions.

Ticker: What are you working on now?
Albom: I have a new book coming out next fall, so I’m in the middle of working on that. And a number of movie and TV projects are always in the works.

Ticker: I’m wondering about Tuesdays With Morrie. Does the book 25 years later have any different meaning or nuance, now given our constantly connected times?
Albom: Well, yeah, any book that’s 25 years old can be read with a new nuance. But the essence of what Morrie said was pretty timeliness. What he really understood about life once he knew he was going to die still holds up: death ends a life not a relationship, giving is living, dying is just one thing to be sad over and living unhappily is another, love wins. Those hold up in any generation, particularly now, when people are consumed by social media and how many likes and clicks we get. None of that is going to make us feel good at the end of our lives. Can you even imagine dying in the hospital and holding your phone trying to put out there, “I’m not going to be here much longer, so goodbye everyone” to see how many likes you get? But if that’s how you live your life, that’s how you’re going to die. So you have to be with people, give of yourself to people.

Ticker: So what will people here see if they attend the play? Is it much different than the book?
Albom: The play is truest incarnation [of what happened], more than the book or movie. I showed up, I sat down, we talked. You can portray that in a play better than any other medium. I think they’ll find a lot more humor than they expect. It’s a very funny play. It’s not dark. The dialogue between the two of us is often very back and forth and snappy. Morrie and I did a lot of laughing; I was trying to cheer him up, and he had funny insights. He didn’t care anymore. So I think people will be very moved and be impressed by the set and the actors. 

Ticker: And you’ll be going to some of the cities on the tour?
Albom: Every one of them. I’ll be in Traverse City on opening night, and I’m doing a talkback on stage after the show with the actors. Come say hi.

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