Allen Swift, the voice of vintage TV character Howdy Doody, is no longer a kiddie star: On Feb. 8 he steps into the role of Italian-American grandfather Nunzio Cristano in the Off-Broadway hit, Over the River and Through the Woods.
Swift replaces Dick Latessa as one of the four meddling grandparents in the semi-autobiographical play by Joe DiPietro. Latessa, whose final show was Feb. 7, is moving on to join the national tour of Cabaret, playing Herr Schultz.
Swift played the voice of Howdy Doody and other characters in the famed 1950s TV series, and appeared on Broadway in The Iceman Cometh with Jason Robards, Checking Out, My Old Friends, The Student Gypsy and How to Make a Man.
DiPietro's play concerns a grandson who gets advice from two sets of Italian-American grandparents. When writing the play, DiPietro drew on his relationships with his four grandparents.
Previews for Over the River and Through the Woods, directed by Joel Bishoff, began Sept. 18, 1998, with an opening of Oct. 5, 1998. DiPietro and Bishoff's earlier collaboration was I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. Over the River celebrated its 100th performance Jan. 6. Hours after the cast party celebrating the milestone, co-producer James Hammerstein died of a heart attack, shocking the cast who had seen him so robust the night before.
Over the River performances play every day but Thursday at the John Houseman Theatre, 450 W. 42nd St. Call (212) 239-6200 for ticket information.
-- By Kenneth Jones