The Rep performs Mitch Albom’s best-seller


Tuesdays With Morrie, based on Mitch Albom’s 1997 blockbuster bestseller about his relationship with his former Brandeis University Professor Morris Schwartz as he reviewed his life while facing death, has been brought to The Mainstage of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in a moving and inspirational production of the play which Albom co-authored with Jeffrey Hatcher. With excellent direction by Mark Cuddy and first-class production values, the stage version of Tuesdays With Morrie does a better job of bringing Albom’s book to life than the excellent 1999 made for television play by Albom and screenwriter Thomas Rickman, broadcast on ABC TV and winning four Emmy Awards, including acting awards for Jack Lemmon as Morrie and Hank Azaria as Mitch.

Cuddy points out, “As soon as I started researching the real Morrie Schwartz, I fell for him. Hard. He wasn’t a caricature of the ‘dying teacher with an adoring student to soak up his last aphorisms.’ Morrie was a survivor, racked with guilt and determined to show his love for all humans as he made peace in the world. Morrie also supplied me with my theatrical metaphor. His Zen approach to death, and the Japanese maple tree that framed his front door, led me to think of transforming the prose of Albom and Hatcher into the poetry of Morrie’s life.” Cuddy wisely shares the credit with his “brilliant designers” and lighting crew who caused the leaves of the maple tree to change colors in harmony with Schwartz’s final journey. “The leaves are always brightest on a tree before they die,” Morrie Schwartz observed. While the thought might not seem all that original, the effect is indeed brilliantly achieved through Vicki Smith’s scenic design and Don Darnutzer’s lighting design.


Tuesdays With Morrie is a very Jewish story. Morris Schwartz was a popular and dedicated professor of sociology at Brandeis University for over 30 years. He had a following among his students, who would often take as many of his courses as possible. Among those students during the late 1970s was Mitch Albom, who at the time was interested in becoming a jazz pianist. Morrie and Albom forged a strong connection, and the young man about to graduate promised to stay in touch — but his busy life as a sports writer and broadcaster, his career ambitions and his new marriage gave him repeated excuses to stay away. Another Jewish journalist, Ted Koppel, on ABC News Nightline invited Morris Schwartz to be his guest for a series of inspirational interviews after Morrie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a dread disease for which there is no known cure, and which causes the muscles to atrophy and a rapid decline in the patient’s physical abilities.

Albom, by then a hard-driving, overly competitive workaholic sports journalist catches Morrie’s appearance on Nightline and contacts the former professor he used to call “coach” for that long-awaited contact. The result of their first reunion was a series of Tuesday afternoon get-togethers, in which Albom would tape-record his former teacher’s words of wisdom as he grappled with what was truly of lasting importance in life as he approcahed death. Those taped conversation became the raw material for Tuesdays With Morrie. Since its initial publication in 1997, Tuesdays With Morrie remains on The New York Times best-seller list to this day, and has sold more than 15 million copies in 31 languages worldwide. The 2002 stage adaptation by Albom and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher debuted off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre, starring Alvin Epstein as Morrie and Jon Tenny as Mitch.

The two-person cast at The Rep includes Bernie Passeltiner, a veteran of the original company of The Rep as Morrie, and Remi Sandri, who last appeared at The Rep in its 2000 Mainstage production of ART, as Mitch. Both are superbly well-cast, and the audience can share the chemistry of mutual respect and affection the wise teacher and brilliant, harried student shared.

We learn from the play that while Morrie’s values seem firmly grounded in Jewish wisdom, he considered himself a Yiddish-speaking devotee of the wisdom of Zen Buddhism, putting him in the company of the growing number of “Jewish Buddhists,” who sometimes call themselves “Jew-Bus.” Schwartz recalls translating a telegram informing his family of his mother’s death from English to Yiddish, so that his father could understand the words. He also recalls going to synagogue in memory of his parents. When he was healthy and viogorous, he told Mitch and his other students that he was an agnostic, but after he became terminally ill he said, “Now, I’m not so sure.”

We also learn from the script by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom that Morrie was not pollyannishly positive about his approaching demise. “I cry a lot,” he tells Mitch, and he does so openly when he realizes he can no longer manage to eat his favorite egg salad or to perform tasks associated with bodily functions without assistance.

The sum total of the values which Morrie tries to impart to Mitch was “Be a mensch.” Morrie encourages his young former student to slow down and smell the flowers, to look at the changing leaves, to be forgiving towards others and to forgive himself for his own shortcomings, to be more loving, to be more willing to both cry and to laugh. “Are you being as human as you possibly can?” Morrie asks Mitch. “Are you at peace with yourself?” “Will you come back to visit me next Tuesday?” “When will your wife come with you for a visit?”

Tuesday With Morrie at The Rep is moving without being mawkish, inspirational without being preachy and uplifting because of the way in which both characters grow in the course of their mutually nourishing student-teacher relationship. In short, it is theater at its very best.

(Tuesdays With Morrie is appearing on The Mainstage at The Rep through Jan. 27. For additional information or to purchase tickets, visit The Rep Box Office, call 314-968-4945, or visit The Rep online at