At 78, Leon Alexander acknowledged that he might be stretching the credulity of the word “youth” in Contemporary Youth Arts Company (CYAC).
“By about 60 years,” he laughed.
But CYAC doesn’t just do shows that are limited to teenage or twenty-something aged performers. Sometimes they need an actor with a little maturity, which is where Alexander comes in.
Alexander plays the older father of one of the central characters in CYAC’s production of “Norman Rockwell’s American Love Story.” The show opens June 14 at the company’s new theater in the Charleston Town Center mall.
It’s one of the first events of Charleston’s FestivALL.
The musical, written by Dan Kehde and Mark Scarpelli, is based around the imagined lives of two of Norman Rockwell’s models as they grow from children to teens to young adults and live through the war years of the 1940s.
Rockwell’s work was iconic and ubiquitous. He painted, and illustrated dozens of books, playing cards, posters and calendars. But, Rockwell is probably best known for his magazine covers depicting American life. His work graced The Saturday Evening Post, Look magazine and Colliers, among others.
“Norman Rockwell’s work during World War II was really amazing,” Alexander said. “He didn’t just paint pictures of soldiers. He showed the people back home and what they were going through. It was very much Americana.”
CYAC’s musical uses several of these images to help frame and tie the story together.
“I think it’s one of Dan Kehde and Mark Scarpelli’s best,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece that has a little bit of everything. There’s comedy in it, poignancy, sadness; it has all the emotions contained in it.”
Alexander’s character is called “The 1942 Armchair General.”
“The scene he’s taken from has an older man, sitting next to a map of Italy, tuning in a radio and listening to war news,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Alexander has taken on the role. He played the armchair general for CYAC in 2009.
A retired Catholic priest, Alexander described himself as a “frustrated actor.” At his age, he said, he doesn’t do a lot of theater anymore and hasn’t been in any production in several years.
“I have some trouble remembering lines of dialogue and song lyrics,” he said. “But this is such a beautiful show.”
When Kehde asked him about reprising the role, Alexander said he really couldn’t say no.
“Dan and I are old friends,” he said. “We get together every month or so for coffee and talk religion and philosophy. Dan asked me about coming back and I said sure.”
Alexander said rehearsals have been going well. He’s working with a lot of talented young actors and actresses.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.