Here come ‘The Sunshine Boys’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 1, 2002

NOTE: This story had gone to press prior to the Tribune receiving the announcement that Frank Gorshin would be unable to appear in the play in Albert Lea due to receiving a film offer. His part will instead be played by Fred Wagner, an actor from Minneapolis.

&uot;I can’t believe this is really happening,&uot; Minnesota Festival Theatre Board Vice President Sue Jorgensen said. &uot;I think a lot of people don’t believe it’s the Dick Van Patten and the Frank Gorshin who are coming.&uot;

But coming they are, and their show, &uot;The Sunshine Boys,&uot; is scheduled for a three-week run beginning Thursday at the Albert Lea Civic Theatre.

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MFT Artistic Director Terry Lynn Carlson had finished up a national tour of the show with the actors, and asked if they’d come and do the show here.

“They said they would,” Carlson said. He was also able to get the national tour’s set and costumes.

&uot;I had so much fun with these two veterans of screen and stage, I just wanted everyone to have that same experience,&uot; the director said.

The play’s storyline is this: For 43 years, Al Lewis and Willie Clark played vaudeville as a team, but a falling out has kept them apart for 11 years. Now, CBS wants to reunite the duo for its &uot;History of Comedy Special.&uot;

Gorshin, who has had a long career as a stand-up comedian and impressionist, is probably best known as “The Riddler” in the “Batman” television series. Gorshin plays the role of Willie Clark in the Simon comedy. When Gorshin does one of his impressions, he inhabits a celebrity’s personality with an intensity that can be downright scary. His Kirk Douglas impression remains his most amazing.

Some of the other television shows he’s appeared in are &uot;Star Trek&uot; (as Commissioner Bele in the classic “Let That Be your Last Battlefield&uot;), &uot;Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,&uot; &uot;The Untouchables,&uot; &uot;The Munsters,&uot; and more recently voiced Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam. Gorshin recently portrayed the late George Burns in a new one-man play titled &uot;Say Goodnight, Gracie,&uot; and continues his comedy career appearing regularly in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Dick Van Patten appears as Al Lewis on stage with his son James Van Patten as Ben Silverman. Few actors have had as versatile and rich a background as Dick Van Patten. With a career which includes more than 600 radio shows, 27 Broadway shows, 30 feature films and seven television series, he is still perhaps best known for his popular starring role as Tom Bradford in the long-running series, &uot;Eight Is Enough.&uot;

A one-time child actor known as Dickie Van Patten, he appeared in a continuous stream of Broadway shows starting at the age of 7. They include three Pulitzer Prize winners, &uot;On Borrowed Time,&uot; &uot;The Skin of Our Teeth&uot; (starring Talulah Bankhead and Frederick March), and he played Ensign Pulver opposite Henry Fonda’s &uot;Mister Roberts.&uot;

“He did his first Broadway show in 1935 as a child actor,” Carlson said. “He worked with the Barrymores … Sinclair Lewis &045; he’s like this history. It’s been so much fun working and traveling with these guys.”

He has appeared in over 30 feature films including Mel Brooks’ &uot;High Anxiety,&uot; &uot;Spaceballs,&uot; and &uot;Robin Hood: Men in Tights&uot; as well as having starred in seven movies for Walt Disney in just over three years.

James Van Patten has had roles in over 25 motion pictures, six of which were with Disney Studios. He’s also had a successful acting career on network television and has also done writing and producing.

Also cast in the show are Van Patten’s daughter-in-law, Nancy Valen, who is best known as Captain Samantha Thomas on &uot;Baywatch.&uot; She is married to Nels Van Patten. She can also be seen on the Sci-Fi Network series &uot;Black Scorpion&uot; and plays the super villain, &uot;Angel of Death.&uot; She’s made many guest appearances on shows such as &uot;Spin City,&uot; &uot;CSI,&uot; &uot;The New Loveboat,&uot; &uot;Boy Meets World,&uot; &uot;Silk Stalkings,&uot; &uot;Walker Texas Ranger,&uot; &uot;Full House,&uot; Saved by the Bell,&uot; and &uot;Murder She Wrote.&uot;

Lola Lesheim appears as the &uot;Sketch Nurse.&uot; She was also featured in the national tour with Gorshin and Van Patten. She has also appeared on Broadway with actor Tony Randall, as well as many productions in the Twin Cities area.

John Mattson, a 2002 graduate of Albert Lea High School, is the only local actor cast in the production.

In addition, there is a fund-raiser connected with the show. For a $100 donation, someone can appear on stage as &uot;The Patient&uot; with the actors during one of the shows. The part is open to men and women, and there are seven lines. Anyone interested in being on stage can call the box office at 377-4371.

There will also be a raffle of a &uot;Sunshine Boys&uot; jacket from the national tour. Tickets are available at the box office.

&uot;The Sunshine Boys&uot; runs June 6-8, 11-15 and 18-22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Civic Theatre, 147 N. Broadway in Albert Lea. There are also 2 p.m. matinees on June 8, 9, 15 and 22. Season tickets are available for $40 or $18 for this show only ($10 for students).

The second show of MFT’s season is &uot;Crimes of the Heart,&uot; which runs June 26-30 and July 2, 5 and 6. The show, by Beth Henley, takes place in Hazelhurst, Miss., for a reunion of the McGrath sisters: Lenny, 30 years old with no romantic prospects; Meg, who just returned from Hollywood; and Babe, who just shot her senator husband. The play is a 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner.

The third and final show of the season is &uot;Guys and Dolls,&uot; the musical fable based on a story by Damon Runyon, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, and the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. The production runs July 10-14, 17-20 and 24-27.

With this show, MFT celebrates the excitement of life in New York City through the vivid characters of &uot;mission doll&uot; Sarah Brown; high-roller Sky Masterson; the chronically ill nightclub performer Adelaide; and her devoted fiance, Nathan Detroit. This classic musical comedy features such familiar songs as &uot;Bushel and a Peck,&uot; &uot;Luck Be a Lady&uot; and &uot;I’ll Know.&uot;

Box office hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday through Saturday and one hour before performances. For tickets, call 1-800-944-5260 or 377-4371.

More information about Minnesota Festival Theatre can be found at