Raleigh Little Theatre will open its lively community-theater production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, a vintage three-act comedy by George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) and Moss Hart (1904-61), at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 11th in its Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage Theatre. RLT held its first organizational meeting on Feb. 11, 1936, but the theater did not perform The Man Who Came to Dinner until February 1942.
“I knew the  movie from back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth,” quips RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons, who is directing The Man Who Came to Dinner for the first time, “but I guess my first real introduction to the play came when I was an apprentice in a production at the Alley Theatre in Houston back in 1974 or 1975, and played a variety of the ensemble roles. That was such an eye-opener for this style comedy in theater. Oh boy, they don’t write them like this anymore.
“My next major exposure to The Man Who Came to Dinner was the 2000 Broadway revival, starring Nathan Lane as Sheridan Whiteside,” Fitz-Simons. “[The Man Who Came to Dinner] has been on my list for years, but you can only do it every so often…. I just had to bide my time, and this seems like a good time. Moreover, sort of by happy circumstance, our opening night is Feb. 11th.”
Set during Advent in the late 1930s in the home of wealthy Mesalia, OH factory owner Ernest W. Stanley (played at RLT by Phil Crone) and his wife, Daisy (Kate Tonner), The Man Who Came to Dinner chronicles the chaos that ensues after a distinguished dinner guest, nationally known radio broadcaster and acerbic wit Sheridan Whiteside (David Wright), slips and falls on the Stanleys’ icy doorstep, injuring his hip. Modeled on the irascible Alexander Woolcott (1887-1943), a well-known theater critic, radio commentator, and member of the Algonquin Round Table, the self-absorbed and increasingly overbearing Whiteside takes over the Stanley household and terrorizes the family, their servants, and their friends with ceaseless demands during his lengthy convalescence, which stretches into the Christmas holidays.
The Raleigh Little Theatre cast for The Man Who Came to Dinner also includes Jenny Anglum as Whiteside’s Gal Friday Maggie Cutler, Joel Horton as Maggie’s new beau newspaperman Bert Jefferson, Misha Nikitine and Kirsten Ehlert as the Stanleys’ children Richard and June, Louise Farmer as the Stanleys’ mysterious house guest Harriet Stanley, John Adams as Noël Coward-like actor and songwriter Beverly Carlton, Amy Flynn as Gertrude Lawrence-like actress Lorraine Sheldon, Del Flack as Harpo Marx-like funnyman Banjo, Tim Cherry as Dr. Bradley, Jessica Smith as Nurse Preen, Fred Corlett as Prof Metz, David Corlett as Sandy, Scott Wray as the Stanleys’ butler John, Heather Shinpaugh as the Stanleys’ cook Sarah, Burgandy Zikowitz as Mrs. Dexter, and Judy Keyes as Mrs. McKutchen.
The show’s ensemble includes Stephanie Rinehart, Randy Jordan, Tim Locklear, Alex Olsen, Erich Reinhard, Barney Weaver, and Aaron Young.
The Man Who Came to Dinner made its Broadway debut, directed by George S. Kaufman, on Oct. 16, 1939 at the Music Box Theatre, where it played for 739 performances before closing on July 12, 1941. The show starred Monty Woolley as Sheridan Whiteside, Edith Atwater as Maggie Cutler, Carol Goodner as Lorraine Sheldon, David Burns as Banjo, John Hoysradt as Beverly Carlton, and Theodore Newton as Bert Jefferson.
The 1942 motion-picture version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, directed by William Keighley from a screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, starred Monty Woolley as Sheridan Whiteside, Bette Davis as Maggie Cutler, Ann Sheridan as Lorraine Sheldon, Jimmy Durante as Banjo, Reginald Gardiner as Beverly Carlton, and Richard Travis as Bert Jefferson.
“I like the writing [of The Man Who Came to Dinner],” reveals director Haskell Fitz-Simons. He says, “I like the plotting; and I like the erudition, which is a challenge, because a lot of the topical references of celebrities and public figures and politicians and their wives are not so familiar to today’s audiences. We’re tackling that head on by including a glossary in the program. It’s sort of light intermission reading,” he chuckles.
Fitz-Simons says, “[Sheridan Whiteside has] got the wickedest sense of humor, and it’s delightful to bring out the humor in the show. Of course, the big challenge is to keep the wicked Mr. Sheridan Whiteside from being totally despicable….
He notes, “Whiteside’s trappings include penguins and doctors and nurses, and mummy cases and celebrity visitors. The Stanley family gets relegated to the back stairs, and they are not too happy about that.”
In addition to director Haskell Fitz-Simons, the Raleigh Little Theatre creative team for includes assistant director Tammy Matthews, technical director and set designer Jim Zervas, lighting designer Cailen Waddell, costume designer Jenny Mitchell, properties manager Ann Marie Crosmun, sound designers Haskell Fitz-Simons and Todd Houseknecht, and stage manager Elaine Petrone.
“Casting a show like this is no day at the zoo,” claims Haskell Fitz-Simons, “but I think we’ve got a gorgeous cast. Sometimes the weather can be a challenge this time of year. We’ve lost a number if rehearsals because of the snow. You never know how that’s going to work out, and we’re not out of the woods yet … obviously. We have cast members coming from as far away as Burlington.”
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 6, 2011 Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/02/06/968575/rlt-celebrates-75-years.html, Feb. 5th column by Barry Saunders: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/02/05/969136/an-rlt-encore-for-75th.html, and Dec. 25, 2010 preview by Ray Martin: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/12/25/881148/raleigh-little-theatre-turning.html.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER at 8 p.m. Feb. 11 and 12, 3 p.m. Feb. 13, 8 p.m. Feb. 17-19, 3 p.m. Feb. 20, 8 p.m. Feb. 24-26, and 3 p.m. Feb. 27 in the Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $20 ($16 students and seniors 62+), except all tickets $12 on Feb. 13th.
BOX OFFICE: 919/821-3111, email@example.com, or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 3 p.m. Feb. 13th performance.
NOTE 2: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows. OTHER LINKS:
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Came_to_Dinner (Wikipedia), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=5781 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Came_to_Dinner_(film) (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033874/ (Internet Movie Database).
George S. Kaufman: http://georgeskaufman.com/index.html (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_S._Kaufman (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=5827 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0442151/ (Internet Movie Database).
Moss Hart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moss_Hart (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6153 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0366454/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review,a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.comand type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Reviewpreviews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.