The theatre fairytale of the understudy taking over for star at last minute and making the role hers was recently played out at the Mark Taper Forum, where Neil Simon's new comedy The Dinner Party just opened for a run through Jan. 16, 2000.
Anette Michelle Sanders, a 32-year-old actress, whose day job was in the marketing department of Center Theatre Group (producer of the Simon play), was tapped on the day of the play's second official performance to take over for Rita Wilson, who had just departed by "mutual agreement based on artistic differences." Sanders, who grew up in Huntington Beach and has spent a decade acting in little theatre throughout southern California, joined a heavyweight ensemble comprised of John Ritter, Henry Winkler, Edward Herrman, Frances Conroy and Veanne Cox -- and has won high praise for her performance.
"This is the kind of thing that every actor would love to have happen, but it never happens," said Sanders. "It's incredibly unusual for an understudy even to have a chance to go on, but to have an opportunity to take over a role is such a rare occurrence. It's one I'm hugely grateful for. People in the costume shop call me Cinderella, and I feel like that."
Ritter, who plays a book dealer in the play, praised Sanders' performance as his sharp-tongued ex-wife. "The first night she went on, it was as good as you can possibly dream an understudy to be," he said. "I couldn't believe it. Everybody loved Rita Wilson, but now it's like Anette was the champion. She sort of saved the day."
Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 N. Grand Ave. For tickets and information call (213) 628-2772. -- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent