Ritter and Winkler Fold Napkins and Excuse Themselves From Dinner Party, June 10

News   Ritter and Winkler Fold Napkins and Excuse Themselves From Dinner Party, June 10 The Party's over June 10 for John Ritter and Henry Winkler, the original stars of Neil Simon's Broadway hit, The Dinner Party.

The Party's over June 10 for John Ritter and Henry Winkler, the original stars of Neil Simon's Broadway hit, The Dinner Party.

Winkler and Ritter, playing two of three men tricked into dining with their ex-wives in the bittersweet comedy, created their roles when the play premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in late 1999. A trip to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center and then a berth at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway saw several cast changes.

Comedian Larry Miller will replace John Ritter and comic actor Jon Lovitz replace Ritter and Winkler, respectively, June 12. Their ability to draw a new crowd to the show will determine how long The Dinner Party will linger. Simon's new show, 45 Seconds From Broadway, about the habitués of a theatre district deli, is expected to open in Broadway in November. The Richard Rodgers Theatre has been mentioned.

The rest of the Dinner cast — Len Cariou, Jan Maxwell, Penny Fuller and Veanne Cox — continue in their roles, playing ex-spouses who are mysteriously reunited at a fancy dinner party in a Paris restaurant. The play is rare instance of Simon not writing American characters, though these French folk sound much like the Simon people we've seen before. They are neurotic, anguished, angry, confused and not without punchlines. Simon's The Good Doctor was inspired by stories by Chekhov and had Russian folk as characters, and Fools also had Eastern Europeans at its core.

* 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."

Miller made a name for himself as a comedian, but graduated to character parts in film and TV, usually playing sourpusses.

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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). Penny Fuller earned a Tony Award nomination playing the elegant, feisty wife, Gabriella.

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. His staging of the comic musical, Urinetown, opens at Broadway's Henry Miller's Theatre in August.

The Music Box is at 239 W. 45th Street. For tickets to The Dinner Party, call (212) 239-6200.