Heartwarming news story inspires original Pride show in Milford

Pantochino Productions Inc. in Milford is known for its family-friendly musical theater shows that are typically light fare. While its newest musical, “As Long As We’re Talking,” explores a heavier theme in suicide, organizers say it contains an important message for young people.

“It seems dark but it is going to be something very uplifting, very positive and something that everyone should hear,” said Bert Bernardi, who wrote the book for the show, noting the show is appropriate for audiences 13 and up. “It’s really for everyone to see. It’s about a young person needing help and to know that you can be whoever you want to be — or are — that you need to live that life, whether you are gay or straight or whatever.”

Running during Pride Month in a limited engagement June 24-26 at the Milford Arts Council in downtown Milford, the one-act musical was inspired by actual events documented in a brief social media post. An LGBT book store cashier answered the phone from a young gay person contemplating suicide. The cashier and bookstore patrons kept the person on the phone alive by talking and sharing their stories and perspectives of being gay or coming out.

“It’s a huge departure for us, tackling subjects like coming out and teen suicide,” he said. “As soon as I read the news item about this book store, I knew it was a story that had to be told, and one that would work as a musical — inspiring and uplifting.”

Despite the dark theme, the show has comedic moments and was written to be positive unlike several renowned gay-themed theatrical productions from “Falsettoland” to “The Boys in the Band” that have heartbreaking moments. The production is sponsored by the Milford Prevention Council and a portion of all proceeds will benefit The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group for LGBTQ youth.

With original music by Justin Rugg, the musical features company members Shelley Marsh Poggio, co-producer/designer Jimmy Johansmeyer and Rachelle Ianniello. Joining them is Tracey Marble and new company members Susan Kulp and Micah Soviero.

Writing the characters and dialogue for “As Long As We’re Talking,” Bernardi was careful not to learn too much about the actual events and the people in the store who kept the person on the phone. “I wanted to be inspired by the story and not feel like I am dramatizing a news story. I didn’t want to know who the people were in the bookstore, I didn't want to know if the person on the phone was male or female,” he said. “I just loved the idea of this and how these people in the store, these strangers, became a family.”

Bernardi created a diverse roster of characters so that their experiences and perspectives would all be different, whether a parent of a gay person or a gay man or a lesbian or…. “It is a one-act musical but I think it is very powerful. I was very excited when I sent the script out to the cast and I got an email back from one of the cast members that said ‘Wow, I can’t wait to do this.’ I have never gotten a wow.”

For more information, visit pantochino.com.