It's no secret that Rich Little is a funny guy who can do impressions, but one of his biggest challenges is to incorporate that stand-up talent into a full evening of theatre. He's been getting that chance by starring in The Presidents, a new comedy that premiered in Michigan in August, received a major staging in upstate New York last autumn, and will now be staged at Upper Montclair, NJ's TheatreFest, June 14-24.
Written by Ron Nessen, who was Gerald Ford's press secretary, and Loren Paul Caplin, The Presidents had its world-premiere tryout at the Cherry County Playhouse in Michigan, Aug. 8-10. That production, somewhat expanded, played at the Helen Hayes Center for the Performing Arts Sept. 23-Oct. 8, officially opening at the Nyack, NY venue Sept. 30. Cherry County artistic director Bill Castellino directed both mountings. Little has apparently expressed serious interest in taking the play to Broadway, though a Hayes Center spokesperson said (Sept. 26) it's more likely the show will tour around the U.S. for a year or so before making any further commercial moves.
In Presidents, Little plays eight U.S. chiefs, starting with John F. Kennedy up through Bill Clinton. Unlike the one-man stand-ups Little's been doing on TV and in Vegas for years, Little is accompanied by an actress playing all the first ladies, plus second bananas playing such politicos as Henry Kissinger, James Carville and Billy Carter. Structured as a play, the piece is narrated by a man who lived through this whole period, from Vietnam to the current era. "It's an overview of modern U.S. history," a Hayes spokesperson told Playbill On-Line. "And you can totally see how Little will be magnificent it it."
Before serving under President Ford, author Nessen was an NBC News correspondent during the Johnson administration. Co-author Caplin is a screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and creative writing at Columbia, New York University and The New School.
For tickets and information on The Presidents at TheatreFest at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, NJ, call (973) 655-5112. -- By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones