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New play spotlights Florence inn.

Byline: LARRY BACON The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - A landmark in Florence since 1938, the Lighthouse Inn on Highway 101 just north of the Siuslaw River Bridge has seen its share of characters come and go.

The old motel, originally known as the Ragan Hotel, over the decades has provided rooms for tourists, traveling salesmen, loggers, drunks and lovers. The people behind the registration desk, such as current owners Jack and Emily Williams, have stories to tell.

Shirley Packard used to enjoy sitting in the comfortable old lobby listening to the stories when she and her husband, David, came to Florence from their home in Redding, Calif., to visit the Williamses, longtime friends who bought the motel 10 years ago after moving north from Redding.

One night in 1993, it occurred to Packard as she relaxed in the lobby that the motel would be the perfect setting for a musical.

So she wrote one, and called it "Lighthouse Inn." It will be performed at the Florence Events Center by a local theater group, the Last Resort Players, Friday through Sunday. Packard will direct.

Only it wasn't that simple. Packard had never written a play, musical or otherwise.

"I had never even been backstage before," Packard said. "I had done some songs - little dabs of writing music. But I had no idea what I was getting into."

Basically, she was a music teacher who sometimes gave classical piano concerts in the Redding area. She had worked as a legal secretary for her husband, an attorney. But her life was at a crossroads. Her husband had had a heart attack and wasn't working anymore, so her secretarial job had ended. An injury kept her from giving concerts. So writing the musical gave her life new purpose.

Packard, an energetic 57-year-old with an easy laugh, worked nearly every day creating characters, developing a story line and writing more than 20 songs. Some days she ran into brick walls. Other days things clicked.

"Those were the times when it was pure joy," she said.

Nearly three years later she had gone as far as she could go. The songs and the script were done. She had a copyright. But she knew there were problems she did not know how to resolve. During the process, she paid periodic visits to the Williamses.

She told them she needed help but didn't know where to turn. They told her about Bob Barker.

The Florence man is a retired drama teacher and community theater veteran who had directed innumerable plays and helped found Florence's Last Resort Players. So Packard sent him a script, he sent her a frank assessment of the problems, and during the next couple of years they worked together by mail to solve them.

She would send him rewrites. He would tell her what worked and what didn't work.

At the same time she was working with Barker, she was getting help from some experts in the Redding area with the music for the play. She had lyrics, melody lines and chord structures. But she learned that she had to turn those into a complete musical score with an overture, finale and all the parts written out for the piano and singers.

Also, the script overhaul made some of the songs unusable and required writing more. So the work continued for two years. All the while, the Redding woman dreamed of someday seeing her creation on stage.

Then came another crossroads. She and her husband decided that they needed to get out of the Redding heat. Their friends from The Lighthouse Inn said they knew the perfect home in Florence overlooking the Siuslaw River. So the Packards bought it and moved in 1999.

Barker immediately put Packard to work in Last Resort Players productions. She served as stage manager, musical director, producer and assistant director on a variety of productions - several of them musicals. There was talk of staging her musical, but it was always a "someday" thing - until a year ago when the theater group leaders told her that 2002 would be the year. When that happened, she took another look at the script and songs. And with the stage savvy she had gained, she made more improvements.

Rehearsals began in March. Packard relishes seeing the songs and the characters she created coming to life. She says the cast is great.

"It's been a wonderful experience," she said. "I'm tired, but I'm just loving it."

One of the things that makes the experience wonderful, she said, is that because the play has never been staged, all the actors and singers get to create their own stamp on their characters and music rather than following in the footsteps of someone else.

"The creativity in this thing has just been intense," Packard said.

Judy Wales, the production's musical director, said the songs are so good that people will walk away humming them.

The music is far better than you would expect for a first-time musical playwright, Wales said, and she wouldn't be surprised if other companies want to stage "Lighthouse Inn."

It's the first original play to be performed by the Last Resort Players, and Barker said it is the best original play he has had anything to do with. Packard's work over the years made the play very good, Barker said, and audience members of all ages should find it entertaining.

The story revolves around the attempts of a couple of con artists attempting to persuade the owners to sell them the motel so they can burn it down and cash in on an insurance claim. The play is set in Florence, but the owners are not named Williams.

However, some of the dialog could have come from Jack and Emily Williams' mouths, Packard said. And one of their stories - about "lookeyloos" who feel they must personally see multiple motel rooms before they rent one for the night - is a key part of the play.

The real Lighthouse Inn owners are excited about the production and will be there opening night.

"I had no idea when we knew Shirley down in Redding she had this kind of talent," Jack Williams said.

Packard said the play has turned out far beyond her expectations, and she has learned a lot. She's already three-quarters done with another musical play set on a lake south of Florence.

"It's called `Woahink Summer'," she said.

'LIGHTHOUSE INN'

WHAT: A musical set in Florence, performed by Last Resort Players

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday,

2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

WHERE: Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St.

COST: Opening night, $15. Other performances cost $10 for adults and $6 for students. Order tickets at 997-1994.

GUARDLINE

Hear the song "Down by the Ocean" by calling 485-2000 and entering category 9943

CAPTION(S):

Shirley Packard's musical inspiration comes from a Florence motel where she has spent evenings talking with friends Jack and Emily Williams, the motel owners.
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Title Annotation:Stage: An original production about the landmark motel is the result of many years of work.; Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 11, 2002
Words:1156
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