When Ted Waltmire was taken to the hospital after suffering a stroke in April 2009, he remembered a quote from “The Producers” and told his wife, “I’m having a stroke! Of genius!”
She told him no one would know what he was talking about.
But the joke actually might have had a hint of truth to it. The Oakbrook Terrace man had a lifelong dream of writing a musical, but it wasn’t until after his stroke that he was able to muster the will to do it.
That should hint to the persistent character of Waltmire, who is the writer, actor and subject of Second City Training Center’s “The Mighty Ted: An Unexpected Journey.”
“The plot takes his life from the night he had a stroke up until present day, and then looks at all the different people that helped him,” director Jay Sukow said. “It takes you on this unexpected journey. It’s a comedy with some really touching moments.”
The curtain goes up at 9 p.m. every Saturday in September in Donny’s Skybox Theatre at the Second City Training Center, 230 W. North Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 for students and $8 for Second City Training Center students, and can be purchased online at themightyted.com.
Sukow, who is also an instructor at Second City, met Waltmire at an improv session and remembers him walking in with a cane that he later forgot he even had.
“He was just great,” Sukow said. “I remember he would just hop in, do everything that everyone else did with no fear.”
Shortly after, Waltmire wrote the script and came to Sukow, asking him if he wanted to direct it. Sukow saw potential in the script as a musical, and the planning of the show began in May.
“The more he started delving into the specifics and what happened and the more he talked to me, I thought it was a really inspirational story,” Sukow said.
The musical has seven original songs, with lyrics written by Waltmire and largely inspired by American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
“I really think the music is amazing,” Sukow said. “People are going to be humming those songs for weeks after.”
The opening number, “An Average Guy,” shows the audience what Waltmire’s life was like pre-stroke.
“It sets the tone,” Sukow said. “It gives you a glimpse into Ted and his wife, Michelle, living in the suburbs.”
The play then takes the audience through Waltmire’s ER and hospital visits, therapy, retirement and dealings with Social Security, and shows how those around him deal with the aftermath of his stroke before they watch him come to the realization that he can still live fully with the love and support of friends and family.
“This gives a voice to people who have gone through similar situations, and it’s not just about how it affects you, but also how it affects your loved ones,” Sukow said. “I really do think we’re putting a face to victims of strokes, and I can’t remember seeing anything like that ever.”
Sukow said people will be drawn to Waltmire and care about his story from the moment he steps onstage.
“You see Ted walk onstage and immediately, you’re interested in this guy,” he said. “He’s very energetic and at times, he’s got a wonderfully almost-crude sense of humor. He doesn’t let anything stop him.”
But Waltmire said he’s never seen himself as the strong person everyone makes him out to be.
The title of the play came about from a blog a friend started that relayed news of his progress to friends and family, in which he was nicknamed “The Mighty Ted.”
And later, the nickname also went on the three-pronged cane he received.
“I had never really thought of myself as a strong person,” he said. “I just went about my day doing the best that I could. Having this nickname set the scene for my recovery and recuperation. Since the stroke, everything takes effort. It’s a drive that I never knew was inside me, and I hope that’s one of the messages of the show.”
Waltmire calls his experience of recuperating from the stroke a “George Bailey moment” — like the “It’s A Wonderful Life” character, he got a chance to see what he meant to the people in his life.
“All of my friends and family have really demonstrated their reactions to me and their willingness to help, and that’s something you’d be really lucky to see in your life,” Waltmire said.
The same family and friends come up to Waltmire and tell him he’s an inspiration, although he says that’s not the reason he took on the challenge of creating and starring in a play while struggling through immobility of the left side of his body.
“That’s not why I’m doing it, to be inspiring,” he said. “I’m just doing it to get as much of my life back as I can and to share this process, and hopefully people will learn from it.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.