In a one-of-a-kind event celebrating Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, five actors will come together on one stage to portray Reagan himself, and the four American presidents who most influenced our 40th president — Jefferson, Coolidge, Roosevelt and Kennedy.
The event, sponsored by Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, features actors who are accomplished character interpreters and historians. Paddy Morrissey will travel from San Francisco to give a warm, humorous portrayal of Ronald Reagan. Colonial Williamsburg’s William Barker will portray Jefferson, Jim Cooke will play Coolidge, John Hamant will present FDR, and Brian Hilton will portray JFK.
Reagan’s Heroes: A 100th Birthday Celebration
Tuesday, February 15
Gerald R. Ford Museum, 303 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids
“To bring five talented actors to West Michigan is a major theatrical event,” said Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. “These individuals are also historians in their own right, so the audience will be treated to a delightful evening of entertainment and education.”
Reagan’s optimistic, western vision was shaped by Thomas Jefferson while his free-market economics came straight out the presidency of Calvin Coolidge. During the Great Depression and World War II, Reagan was a steadfast admirer of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his combination of tax cuts and strong defense was from the playbook of John F. Kennedy.
Morrissey has been impersonating Ronald Reagan since 1981. He performed at the 1984 Democratic Convention, fielding questions from Sam Donaldson and other members of the press. In 1986, he starred as Ronald Reagan in Garry (Doonesbury) Trudeau’s hit musical satire, “Rap Master Ronnie.” He has been featured on network television and countless radio stations.
Barker has portrayed Thomas Jefferson in a variety of settings over the past 20 years. He began portraying Jefferson for Colonial Williamsburg in 1993, where he also assists in the development of Jefferson programs. Barker received a bachelor’s degree in history from Villanova University. He appeared as Jefferson in programs aired on ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, CNN, The History Channel, and C-SPAN.
Cooke is considered America’s most famous Calvin Coolidge impersonator and has portrayed the 30th president for more than 30 years. Cooke has performed at Presidential Libraries, the National Archives, the Library of Congress and Mount Rushmore and on C-SPAN and NPR.
In his 33 years with Colonial Williamsburg, Hamant held the positions of senior archaeologist, character interpreter, director of Evening and Special Programs, and director of Special Events and Protocol. In 1993, Hamant developed a portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a special Colonial Williamsburg program and continued to perform as the 32nd president over the next nine years. He has a bachelor’s degree in theatrical production and a master’s degree in acting and directing from the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Since 1987, Hilton has portrayed John F. Kennedy, young Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and young George Washington. Hilton is a scholar of John F. Kennedy’s presidency and is currently under consideration by the Kennedy Center for his portrayal of JFK. He has also given memorable talks on JFK’s role in the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, the U.S. space program, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
For more information, contact the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at (616) 331-2770 or visit www.allpresidents.org.