Only Man in Town: Chelsea Area Players’ Upcoming Production


Playwright Jason Eyster looks on during the first rehearsal with both the actors and the orchestra.

History. It’s a class we all take, but not a class we all enjoy. But for some, it can also be much more than that. For many people, it can be a hobby or even a career, but for Jason Eyster, it’s an interest he’s had for his entire life. Since he first moved to Chelsea, his passion for local history has led him to begin a hugely daunting task: writing a musical about the story of Chelsea. 

His piece, The Only Man In Town, follows the story of Frank P. Glazier, the founder of Glazier Stove Works and the owner of many businesses in downtown Chelsea during the 1890s-1910s. After a fire destroyed much of the downtown, Glazier led the rebuilding of the growing industrial center where he directed the construction of a new stove manufacturing plant which, by 1907, occupied 18 structures within 10 acres. At the height of production, as many as 100 stoves could be produced each day, and they were shipped around the world to places as far away as Alexandria, Egypt.  As a prominent member of the community, Glazier served as President of the Village of Chelsea, Chairman of the School Board, founder of the Chelsea Methodist Home, and eventually he was elected State Treasurer. However, after he was accused of misappropriating state funds for his own use, he was sentenced to 15 years of prison time in Jackson. He was released early on good behavior and returned to his family in Chelsea, but by the time he returned, his interest in business and politics had waned and he took on a less prominent but just as important role in the community, choosing instead to spend more time with his family than in the office.

As a musical that is unique to Chelsea, the upcoming performances on June 9th, 10th, and 11th will be the first time that this piece has ever been performed. Although it’s exciting to be the first, it also presented some unique challenges for the production team, even if they’ve got a lot of experience. 

“I have been directing for over 40 years,” director Rebecca Groeb explained. “When I was in college, I directed a summer production, and I’ve been directing ever since then. I’ve directed community theater, a lot of high school productions and a children’s theater group. But this is my first original, and since it’s an original, you really have to be creative and imaginative and see it in your own head. There aren’t other resources to rely on to get ideas like a broadway cast recording, so you have to have a good vision in your head to be able to do it well.”

Despite the challenges, it’s also rewarding to be able to perform something that’s never been done before.

“It’s exciting for me to do an original musical that no one has ever seen performed before because the songs are all new to me and I know they’ll be new to the audience as well, so it feels very exciting,” Amanda Austin, who plays Henrietta (Frank Glazier’s wife), remarked.

“Part of the reason I was interested in doing it is because you can make it your own because no one else has ever done it before, so I was very intrigued by that,” Groeb added. “I worked very closely with the playwright, Jason Eyster, to make sure that I’m being true to the script and the characters, and that the story is the way he intended it to be.”

Austin is excited to be part of this production for other reasons too. Although she is currently a teacher at Emerson, she graduated from Chelsea High School so she enjoys being a part of something with a local connection.

“I know about a lot of the things we reference in the play because I grew up in Chelsea,” Austin explained. “I recognize certain places and people that we talk about. For example, one of the characters in the play is Harmon Holmes and whenever we talk about him, it makes me think of Jiffy Mix and the Holmes family that still lives in Chelsea and owns that company.”

Although many residents of Chelsea know the general story of Frank Glazier, it was important to Eyster to make sure that the musical told his story in the correct context.

“Frank Glazier is known by many people, but he’s known only as the crook who built the clock tower,” Eyster explained. “As I learned more about Frank, I realized that in addition to being a felon, he was also a poet, a philanthropist, an industrialist, a politician, and an inventor, and I wanted to share with everyone the story of this remarkable individual. I also thought that if I spent enough time, I could try to figure out what made Frank Glazier do the things that he did. He’s a very complicated character, and I was just trying to understand why he did all of that: the ambition that he had, the adventurousness of going down to Cuba for six weeks in the early 1900s, traveling around on a donkey to look for real estate and industrial opportunities and sleeping on the ground. He was just a fascinating person.”

Although telling Glazier’s story was part of the motivation behind his choice to write a musical, Eyster had other motivations too.

“I wanted to give Chelsea an origin story,” Eyster elaborated. “One of the things that makes communities successful is having a shared story about their origin. We all have a lot of different values and beliefs but when you’re living together in a community and you’re proud of your community and proud of your history, that unites you and allows you hopefully to get beyond the philosophical and personal differences you have and stand together in supporting your community.”

Connecting a community is certainly a noble mission, but Eyster is hoping his musical’s impact will expand beyond even that.

“I hope it will show people that the conflict between those who value tradition and those who value change and innovation has been going on in our community since the 19th century, and beyond that, it’s through that conflict that we continue to thrive as a community,” Eyster explained. “If we were to reject everything that was old or refuse to change, our community might be like many other of the farm towns in the area, many of which no longer exist. There was the town of Lima Center which now is just a crossroads with the town the Lima Township Hall. But at one time, it was a larger city than Chelsea, and yet now it’s a ghost town. It had a railroad but it just didn’t have what Chelsea did and I think a lot of that was these leaders and their ambitions to really make Chelsea thrive. I also hope it will make everyone realize what a special city Chelsea is and give people pride. My final hope would be that this play will be put on at other times in other places. It might become an annual pageant here in Chelsea, similar to others around the country. That’d be great if we did that, but it also might be of interest to community theaters and other towns who face the same challenges that Chelsea has.”

To those who are in doubt about attending the play, Eyster strongly encourages them to go see it. 

“Even for those people who say, ‘I don’t go to musicals,’ I encourage them to come and see the show,” Eyster explained. “It has a lot of laughs, it has some really serious drama, and they’ll get to see the fellow residents of their community bringing to life the Chelsea of 100 years ago. And I really think they’ll have a great time.”

Performances are June 9th and 10th at 7:30 pm and June 11th at 3pm. Tickets can be purchased at or at the door.