‘Harry’s’ Youngstown roots run deep


“Harry’s Friendly Service” is about to enter its second and final weekend.

The play, written by Boardman native Rob Zellers, is set in 1977 Youngstown and is rife with references to people and places in the city during those heady days. At last week’s opening night performance, I heard many audience members chuckle over fleeting mentions of long-forgotten cultural markers of the days when Youngstown was wide open with numbers runners and crime organizations.

The current production, which is actually being produced by the Youngstown Playhouse, is being staged at Ford Theater at Youngstown State University. That’s right up the hill from where Harry’s gas station once stood on East Front Street, and a stone’s throw away from Smoky Hollow, which is the locale for another Zellers play that hopefully will get produced in coming years.

Rarely does a new play have such relevance in Youngstown as “Harry’s Friendly Service.” It’s an opportunity to recall what it used to be like here, and it gives reason to reflect on where we’re headed. In fact, a related series of panel discussions at the Playhouse this week has been delving into the city’s history. The final installment begins at 7 tonight with short films about the Idora neighborhood and a discussion that includes Zellers ($5).

“Harry’s” got its world premiere in 2009 at Pittsburgh Public Theater, and thousands of Youngstowners attended.

Matthew Mazurosky admirably plays the gruff and imposing title character at YSU. But if you saw the play and thought the role would be a natural for Ed O’Neill, the “Modern Family” actor who is a North Side native, you wouldn’t be the first.

In fact, the script was brought to O’Neill’s attention back in 2009 after the Pittsburgh premiere. O’Neill, who lives in the Los Angeles area, and Zellers, of Pittsburgh, discussed it over the phone, with O’Neill giving tips on how to make the dialogue sound more Youngstown.

Zellers took his script to LA after the premiere to try to find a regional professional theater that would produce it. He couldn’t get any takers, probably because theaters there have so many quality scripts to consider. Plus, being a Rust Belt thing, “Harry’s” wouldn’t be so attractive in La La Land.

It’s interesting to note that Ed Hyland, father of Sarah Hyland, who plays Haley in “Modern Family,” was the original Harry in the Pittsburgh production. Ed Hyland is a talented journeyman actor whose credits include tons of regional theater and movies, including “Bridge of Spies” (2015).

Speaking of “Modern Family,” hollywoodreporter.com reports that contract talks have yet to begin for the ninth season of the still highly-rated sitcom. The hold-up stems from a dispute between the studio and ABC over high cast salaries.

It’s expected that the stare-down will continue for a while, and contract talks will go down to the wire, according to deadline.com, but it’s widely expected that the popular series will continue for at least another season, and possibly two.

THIS AND THAT

Jazz honor: The Boardman High School Jazz Ensemble I, led by Tom Ruggieri, will play at BluJazz in Akron at 7 p.m. next Thursday, with Youngstown guitar great Teddy Pantelas sitting in. Pantelas and his trio will then finish the night. It’s another honor for the outstanding BHS ensemble, which has already played a number of famous jazz clubs, including B.B. King’s Blues Club and Swing 46 in New York, the Blue Wisp in Cincinnati and Fat Fish Blue in Cleveland.

Film advances: Christopher Mele, the Canfield actor who had a small role in the Oscar-nominated film “Fences,” got some more good news this week. Mele plays a teacher in the upcoming film “My Friend Dahmer,” which was accepted this week into the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York next month.

Rock festivals: LaureLive, Northeast Ohio’s only full-blown rock festival, has revealed its schedule. Gary Clark Jr. and Needtobreathe will headline June 10, with The Head and the Heart and Young the Giant closing the fest June 11. Also, the Nelsonville Music Festival in Athens County (June 1-4) has added 11 more bands to its lineup, including Jenny Lewis and They Might Be Giants. Already on the bill are Ween, Emmylou Harris, Conor Oberst, Cloud Nothings, Sara Watkins and Parquet Courts.

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