"Saturday Night Live" veteran Jon Lovitz sits down June 5 to break bread and crack wise in The Dinner Party, the hit Neil Simon play at Broadway's Music Box Theatre, taking over the role created by Henry Winkler, who exits the show June 3.
Variety reported that Winkler is leaving the marriage-minded serio-comedy, about strangers invited to a mysterious dinner in a Paris restaurant, to produce a movie for Showtime. A spokesman for the Dinner Party said co-star John Ritter is expected to leave the comedy in early summer, focusing on other projects.
Lovitz is the comic character actor remembered for playing an "SNL" character known as "Master Thespian," for which pompously declaimed lines. The character was apparently inspired by a professor he had at the University of California. He has appeared in such film comedies as "A League of Their Own," "City Slickers 2," "Small Time Crooks" and "Little Nicky," and was the voice of Jay Sherman in the cult animated TV series, "The Critic."
* Neil Simon's 31st play began Broadway previews Oct. 3, 2000, at the Music Box, where Len Cariou, Veanne Cox, Penny Fuller, Jan Maxwell, Ritter and Winkler sat down for the comedy about marriage and divorce. John Rando directs the work, set in an upscale gourmet restaurant in Paris, where a party is being thrown by a well known divorce lawyer. Two tuxedoed strangers meet, and are joined by a third, confused guest. Ex-wives soon enter the mix.
The production got mixed reviews but was an instant hit, and has since made its investment back (as have small-cast Broadway plays,Proof and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife).
The jewelbox Music Box, originally built by Irving Berlin, is said to be the perfect size for Simon's humane, humorous rumination on marriage and relationships. Official opening was Oct. 19, 2000.
The play had its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in December 1999 and played an engagement in June and July, 2000, at the Eisenhower Theatre of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The casting changed slightly in each phase of the production's development.
Emanuel Azenberg, Ira Pittelman, Eric Krebs, Scott Nederlander, ShowOnDemand.com and Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum/Gordon Davidson are producing the Broadway run.
Designers are John Lee Beatty (set), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Brian MacDevitt (lighting) and Jon Gottlieb (sound). This is the Broadway debut for director Rando, who helmed Off-Broadway's Mere Mortals and Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight.
All but one in the cast of the 2000 DC staging repeated their duties on Broadway. Jan Maxwell (The Sound of Music, A Doll's House) was the company's newcomer. Winkler (TV's "Happy Days"), Cariou (Sweeney Todd), Ritter (TV's "Three's Company"), Cox (Company) and Fuller (Applause) starred in DC as the guests who attend a private dinner party in a chic Paris restaurant. One by one, guests arrive to face an evening of surprises. Answers for the men unfold when ex-wives begin showing up in what has been described as a play by turns hilarious and emotionally honest.
Cox's credits include daffy turns in Off-Broadway's The Food Chain, Broadway's Company and The Batting Cage (at The Humana Festival), and Fuller may be best known for Applause, and a recent revised revival of Do I Hear a Waltz? at the Grove Street Playhouse in New Jersey.
Jan Maxwell (Dancing at Lughnasa) plays the role originated by Anette Michelle Sanders in L.A. and D.C.
Ritter, Winkler and Cox starred in the play's Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum world premiere in Los Angeles in December 1999.
The play ended a sold-out final week July 16 at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre. The DC run, June 17-July 16, 2000, was produced by The Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum.
Lloyd Rose of The Washington Post, in her review, said it was "Neil Simon in new, dangerous territory" and called the work "laugh out loud funny" and "Simon's emotionally richest play." John Rando's direction "gracefully glides the evening to its sweet yet mournful ending."
The Dinner Party had its world premiere Dec. 2, 1999, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The comedy on marital and romantic themes, set in a private dining room of a chic Parisian restaurant, continued to Jan. 16, and rewrites by the author were said to have continued through the week of Christmas last year.
The L.A. cast included Frances Conroy (The Little Foxes), Cox, Edward Herrmann (Psychopathia Sexualis), Ritter, Los Angeles actress Sanders and Winkler.
Simon's Hotel Suite (a clutch of one-acts) recently played Off Broadway's Gramercy Theatre. Other Simon works include The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Broadway Bound, Biloxi Blues, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Lost in Yonkers.
For tickets to The Dinner Party, call (212) 239 6200. The Music Box is at 239 W. 45th Street.