Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunshine Boys

Took in a local production of The Sunshine Boys this afternoon and Neil Simon's lines hold up. Yes, I recall the movie with Walter Matthau and George Burns well and thought they both were superb. But this play has more meaning for me.

It's a reunion after a decade of two great ex-vaudevillian comics who apparently never liked each other during 43 successful years on the circuits, including the two ultimate achievements of vaude: playing the Palace and appearing in the '50s on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Btw, the stars in the Broadway original were Sam Levene and Jack Albertson. Levene was the original Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, while I saw Albertson in the great play on Broadway, The Subject Was Roses.

What makes this play special for me is that I once had the chance to meet the duo who were the real originals for the comedy act in the play--Lewis and Clark. They were Smith and Dale--Joe Smith and Charlie Dale, and the likelihood that those were their real names is non-existent for either pair. Unlike the two in the play, however, who are depicted as always at odds with each other, Smith and Dale when I met them shared a wonderful old West Side apartment filled with wonderful vaude memorabilia.

I'd first heard of them when I was at summer camp and one of my bunkmates who also had some ties to show business got hold of a script of their famous Dr. Kronkheit routine. It was yet another part of theatrical history that I was exposed to at an early age, for at camp, I also made my first acquaintance with Gilbert & Sullivan and our color-war team song was set to the tune of the Triumphal March from Aida.

The actors in Washington's Keegan Theater Co. who put this on at their Church St. Playhouse near Du Pont Circle did a nice job--Kevin Adams reminded me a bit of Walter Matthau in playing the leading role, and Tim Lynch did a neat job in the George Burns part. The company played old radio recordings before each act and during intermission, along with some other old-time stuff, ranging from Groucho singing "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It" (from the Marx Bros. film, Horsefeathers) and a snip from a Burns & Allen routine, along with a Scott Joplin rag, which just made the time line, I think, since Smith & Dale got their start early in the 20th century as half of a comedy unit called The Avon Comedy Four.

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