PITTSBURG — One of the world’s most celebrated Winston Churchill impersonators is coming to Pittsburg State University for one night.
Titled “Churchill: The Blitz,” this one-man, two-act play is written, directed, produced and performed by Churchillian scholar Randy Otto. The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Bicknell Family Center for Arts at 1711 South Homer Street. Tickets range from $19 to $25.
The production follows Churchill on the roof of the cabinet war rooms during the night of the Blitz, the bombing of London in 1940.
“The show is years in development and we’re really proud of it,” Otto said. “When people walk out of the theater, we hope they feel as though they’ve really gone through a night of the bombing with Winston.”
Although “The Blitz” premiered in San Angelo, Texas, in April 2017, Otto’s journey up to this point began as early as his college career.
“I started as an actor in college and through a wonderful happenstance I was taught and mentored by a British history professor named Maxwell Schoenfeld,” he said. “When he caught me imitating his impression of Churchill in front of the students one day, he said ‘you know, you might have something there, Mr. Otto.’”
Otto’s next breakthrough moment came when he was developing the script for the show and his son mentioned that none of his fellow classmates knew who Churchill was.
“I thought back on when my history professor said ‘Randy, if you don’t do this, people are going to forget about him,’” he said. “Realizing I couldn’t let that happen, I had been playing with the idea of contacting Hal Holbrook.”
Holbrook, the Oscar-winning actor of “Into the Wild” fame, toured a similar show with his Mark Twain performance from 1954 to 2017. In 2009, Otto met with Holbrook during a performance at Southern Illinois University and received some sound advice.
“He taught me to not worry about a script and to just build bridges between Churchill’s stories,” Otto said. “What I do now is a show that’s different every night because I’m changing the stories or I’ll provide another nuance or go off on another tangent.”
At the end of each performance, Otto does a segment called “Ask Winston” in which audience members are encouraged to ask the toughest Churchill question they can muster.
“It’s astonishing how thought-out and informed every audience is,” Otto said. “Sometimes we have to cut the segment off because it gets to the point where we go on and on, but it’s great fun.”
Otto said the Churchill family has endorsed him as the greatest Churchill on stage. The thespian maintains a close friendship with Churchill’s great-grandson, Jonathan Sandys.
“He and I do a different show called ‘The Dream’ where I essentially come back from the dead as a ghost and we have a conversation about what’s happened between 1965 and today,” Otto said. “What would Winston think about the Vietnam War and the falling of the Berlin Wall?”
Although Otto will perform at Bicknell for only one night, he will have another show at 6 p.m. at the Liberty Theatre at 113 South Main Street, in Fort Scott.
“My goal is for people to to get the fact that this was a living, breathing human being with frailties like the rest of us,” Otto said. “I think people will be inspired by this tremendous life that he lived and hopefully everybody falls in love with Winston.”
— Brandon Schmitz is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.