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In “The Sunshine Boys,” David Ring and John Boni Will Play Feuding Former Vaudeville Partners

John Boni (left) and David Ring will star as the legendary Vaudeville team of Al Lewis and Willie Clark in TheatreFest's production of "The Sunshine Boys" by Neil Simon

John Boni (left) and David Ring will star as the legendary Vaudeville team of Al Lewis and Willie Clark in TheatreFest's production of "The Sunshine Boys" by Neil Simon

The third and final production of TheatreFest 2012: A Knockout Season of Dueling Duos will be The Sunshine Boys, Broadway King of Comedy Neil Simon’s 1972 backstage comedy about feuding former Vaudeville partners, which University Theatre at N.C. State will perform on June 14-15, 17, and 20-24 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall on the NCSU campus. TheatreFest will present The Sunshine Boys in rotating repertory with Lettice and Lovage, a 1987 comedy written by Peter Shaffer and directed by University Theatre director of theater John C. McIlwee, on June 13 and 16-17 in Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre, also in Frank Thompson Hall.

“Of course, The Sunshine Boys is a well-known and well-loved classic Neil Simon comedy,” says University Theatre assistant director Allison Bergman. “It has been mounted, remounted, made into a few films, and is enjoying a run in the West End, in London now, starring Danny DeVito [as Willie Clark and Richard Griffiths as Al Lewis].”

The Sunshine Boys made its Broadway debut, directed by Alan Arkin, on Dec. 20, 1972 at the Broadhurst Theatre, and later transferred, first, to the Shubert Theatre and, then, to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. It played for a combined total of 538 performances before closing on April 21, 1974. The show was nominated for three 1973 Tony Awards® — Best Play, Best Actor in Play (Jack Albertson for playing Willie Clark, opposite Sam Levene as Clark’s former Vaudeville co-star Al Lewis), and Best Direction of a Play — Albertson won the 1973 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.

The 1975 motion-picture version of The Sunshine Boys, directed by Herbert Ross from a screenplay by Neil Simon, starred Walter Matthau as Willie Clark and George Burns as Al Lewis. The film was nominated four 1976 Academy Awards — including Best Actor in a Leading Role (Walter Matthau); Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Material (Neil Simon); and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Albert Brenner and Marvin March) — George Burns won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Allison Bergman, who will direct The Sunshine Boys for TheatreFest 2012, “I have not worked on a production of [The Sunshine Boys] before, but jumped at the chance to do it. I’ve heard that Sunshine Boys is actually Simon’s favorite, and it’s easy to see why. It’s truly a love letter to the comedy showmen that came before him.

Bergman says she loves Neil Simon’s “mastery of the language of humor, and how it can be used to tell so much more about relationships than you think a couple of punch lines ever could. Also,” she adds, “as I began my preparatory work, the form and content of the ‘real’ scenes and the ‘Vaudeville’ scenes began to inform each other; and the parallels began to emerge — the irony of art imitating life, imitating art.”

When the curtain rises, says Allison Bergman, it is New York City in the 1970s. Berman says, “Willie Clark (David Ring) and Al Lewis (John Boni) — known in the heyday of Vaudeville as The Sunshine Boys — haven’t spoken in over a decade. Willie’s nephew and agent, Ben (Philip T. Caudle), convinces them to reunite for a TV special, but can they bury the hatchet for old times sake?

“At the TV studio,” Bergman says, “bit actors recreate the characters of the Nurse (Maddison Harris) and the Patient (Christian O’Neil), from one of the team’s famous sketches, while the Stage Manager (Victoria Blake) has to referee. Willie’s private nurse (Barbette Hunter) does her best to remind him to take care of himself; but all Willy wants is to get back to work, and to get back at his old partner for walking out on the act.”

In addition to director Allison Bergman, the University Theatre at N.C. State creative team for The Sunshine Boys includes technical director David Jensen, set designer Jayme Mellema, lighting and sound designer Joshua A. Reaves, costume designers Laura Parker and John McIlwee, properties manager Victoria Blake, and stage manager Caroline Domack.

Bergman says, “The play takes place primarily in Willie’s one-room hotel apartment in NYC…. It is mid-winter, and not much light filters in to the place.”

She adds, “The costumes are realistic. But in the Vaudeville sketch, they are extreme, funny, and definitely not ‘PC.'”

Director Allison Bergman claims, “The challenge — and the fun — of [staging] this show is trying to capture the spirit and rhythm of old Vaudeville, while still making it funny for today’s audience.”

University Theatre at N.C. State presents THE SUNSHINE BOYS at 7:30 p.m. June 14, 15, 17, and 20-23 and 2 p.m. June 24 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.

TICKETS: $15 ($5 NCSU students and $13 other students and seniors).

BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/.

SHOW/THEATREFEST: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/theatrefest/index.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/index.html.

VENUE: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/thompson/index.html.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/mapsanddirections.html.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play (background): http://www.sunshineboystheplay.com/ (official U.K. West End website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sunshine_Boys (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Simon (Wikipedia).

The Film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sunshine_Boys_(film) (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073766/ (Internet Movie Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

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.

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