Orvie!, by lyricist-librettist David L. Good and composer Bob Milne, charts the stunts and strategies of the 350-pound ex-marine Hubbard, the controversial segregationist mayor of Henry Ford's hometown.
Good is a retired newspaperman and author of a 1989 biography, "Orvie, The Dictator of Dearborn: The Rise and Reign of Orville L. Hubbard" (Wayne State University Press).
"I think Hubbard may have been the most interesting politician in America during the 1940s, '50s and '60s," Good, who spent 34 years as a reporter and editor at the Detroit News, told Playbill.com. "He made Life, Time and Newsweek, as well as the New York Times Magazine. The NAACP once called him the nation's meanest man in race relations, but that was only a part of his persona. He was one of the last of the old-style bosses, and he has been called the most clownish mayor in America, partly because he and two other fat guys once dressed up in identical suits and clown masks to confuse sheriff's deputies trying to arrest him in a libel case."
Orvie!, the musical, will be tested by a non-Equity cast in a 7 PM reading July 22 at the Berwyn Center in Dearborn Heights. Greg Phillip Viscomi and LaMarr Fields will direct a cast of 13 actors. The score will be sung by two singers (Brittany Taylor, Cal Schwartz), with actors reading from scripts.
Bill Premin will play Orvie. The keyboardist is Linda Lukens. Audience feedback will be solicited. For information, or to RSVP, call (313) 278-5271 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Good, 64, said he first thought of making Hubbard's story into a musical about 20 years ago, but didn't pursue it until 2002, two years after he retired from journalism. The playwright-lyricist has lived in Dearborn all his life and is a city historical commission member. Composer Milne, of Lapeer, MI, is a nationally known ragtime piano player.
Good said Hubbard made Dearborn famous for outstanding city services, but also drew criticism as an outspoken segregationist and political boss during his 36 years in office. He died in 1982. The writer called the play "funny and sometimes light, but historically accurate." He said he hopes the truths in it will make people in Dearborn "squirm a little bit."
Is Orvie a villain?
"The play tries to see him as a real person and to understand him a little bit," Good said. "It's sort of a proverbial warts and all treatment, but at the same time I think there's some sympathy for Hubbard as a product of his times."
He and composer Milne have hopes that Orvie! might appeal to a national audience. Good said he has run into obstacles getting it performed in Dearborn, or getting attention for it in Hubbard territory. "There's been a less than enthusiastic response from the official Dearborn community," he said. "Hubbard is still a popular figure, even a quarter-century after his death. Not everybody is O.K. with the idea of satirizing a man whose statue is prominently displayed by the town hall, even if it the play is faithful to historical fact."
In its Dubious Achievement Awards issue of January 2005, the Metro Times of Detroit (the alternative paper on Motown) labeled the project "one of the unlikeliest adaptations of a real-life character's story for the legitimate theatre."
"Of course it's unlikely," Good said. "That's one reason why it appealed to me. The Metro Times implied that it is somehow off-limits to poke fun at the shenanigans, racist or otherwise, of a controversial figure like Hubbard, and it serves no useful purpose to dredge up the history of race relations in a traditionally lily-white city like Dearborn."
The cast of the reading also includes Judy Premin, Mikel Allan, Emily Gedert, Brian Townsend, David Alexander, Hussein Itawi, Stephen Taylor-Wehr, Philip Booth and Greg Turner.
Good is also working on a new musical, Julia!, a biographical show about Julia A. Moore, a western Michigan farmwife who earned tongue-in-cheek acclaim in 1880 as America's worst poet ever. She was a favorite of Mark Twain. It will feature a cast of five and mix original lyrics and her verse. Bob Milne is attached as composer.