In the spring of 1965, the people of Lewiston really had something to sing about. For a little while, anyway.

Their small mill city had been picked as the site of the biggest sporting and celebrity-spotting event of the year: the championship boxing match between superstar Muhammad Ali and bruiser Sonny Liston. But it ended with a first-round knockout, prompting critics to cry that the fight was fixed. The big event was deemed a disappointment by many and the spotlight on Lewiston soon dimmed.

Emma Jones rehearsing a scene from the musical “Come Out Swingin’!” which opens Friday in Lewiston. Photo courtesy of Brian Daly

But now, more than 50 years later, Portland playwright Brian Daly has decided to give Lewiston a song of celebration with the new musical “Come Out Swingin’!” Using fictional Lewiston characters – including a deputy city manager, a local choir director and a textile worker – the musical tells the story of the hope and optimism the big boxing match brought, along with the challenges of being in the national spotlight. It will be performed Friday through Sunday at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston.

“I was imagining how the people of Lewiston felt, with the attention of the whole world coming down on the city for the first time,” said Daly, 66, who was 11 and living in Portland when the fight took place. “So I thought that a good way to capture the grand scale of their emotions would be by expressing them in song.”

The big fight was supposed to be in Boston, but officials there blocked it because of worries about organized crime’s ties to boxing and also because of supposed death threats against Ali. Even though the fight ended quickly and some critics say Liston fell to the canvas on purpose, the match tied Lewiston to Ali and boxing history for years to come.

Erin Marenghi and Zachariah Stearn rehearse a scene from “Come Out Swingin’!” Photo courtesy of Brian Daly

The show focuses on several Lewiston citizens as they prepare for the big fight, which Ali won. There’s Mickey St. Pierre, the second assistant deputy manager of Lewiston and main cheerleader for the fight. There’s Connie, a choir director who has been tapped to accompany Broadway star Robert Goulet (who had family from Lewiston) when he sings the national anthem. Boom Boom Vavoom is an exotic dancer who hopes to be the fight’s “round card girl,” the woman who parades around the rink holding numbered cards that denote each round.

St. Pierre is played by Zachariah Stearn, who is artistic director at Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish. Stearn says his character is sort of like Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” but without the con man aspect. In the rousing number “Lewiston,” Stearn’s character sings of the city, “Maybe you’ve never been here before, but me, I never left.”

The number “Bedspreads Forever” is an homage to city’s textile factories, while “Spruce Her Up” is about getting the city ready and “Robert Goulet” is about the star singer who famously messed up the words to the national anthem.

Two fighters in a preliminary match before the 1965 Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston fight at Central Maine Youth Center in Lewiston. Associated Press photo

Other numbers include “Round by Round,” “Fight Night,” “In Love With This Town” and “Better Days.” The cast is made up of actors and singers from around southern Maine, including Emma Jones, a 2017 graduate of South Portland High School who plays Connie.

Daly is a veteran writer. He wrote a children’s novel about a basketball-playing Sasquatch called “Big and Hairy,” which was made into a Showtime movie in the late 1990s and for which he wrote the screenplay. For the past 19 years, he’s worked as an ed tech at South Portland High School while continuing to write. His play “Cauldron Bubble” premiered at The Theater Project in Brunswick in 2016 and is now licensed to be performed by school and community groups. “Come Out Swingin’!” is his first musical.

“The lyrics Brian wrote are funny and quirky,” said Stearn. “There’s every kind of music you can imagine, from R&B and oompa to beautiful ballads.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.