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Monday, March 13, 2006

Sunshine Boys put final touches to the play

There is good news for theatre buffs. Neil Simon's hit play, 'The Sunshine Boys' is playing in Mumbai for the next few weeks.

The cast is made up of theatre veteran Hosi Vasunia, Riyaaz Makaney, Vishaal Asrani, Heena Kamte and Kamal Mulla. Sam Kerawala is directing this play. The play is about a film agent's attempt to get two crotchety, old vaudeville artistes, Lewis and Clark, to perform together again. This means, they have to put aside their differences and get their act together, for a comeback. It has all the makings of a Neil Simon comedy - clever one-liners, and witty repartee.

Actor, Hosi Vasunia told CNBC-TV18, "This is a play about two old-time comedians in vaudeville, which is a different kind of comedy in America."

This play was first written by Neil Simon in 1972 for Broadway. The Sunshine Boys was adapted by the playwright for the big screen in 1975, which earned actor George Burns an Oscar and Walter Matthau an Academy nomination.

He also later wrote an updated version of the play for television, which was produced in 1995 but was then shelved for the time being. It was later shown during the Christmas holidays in 1997. This version starred Woody Allen and Peter Falk.

A colourful history....

Vaudeville is an art form that has its roots in America, where it began life as a kind of entertainment for the masses after the Civil War. It was after 1871, the term vaudeville, itself, referring specifically to American variety entertainment, came into common usage. This was also the time when the 'Sargent's Great Vaudeville Company of Louisville', was formed, which had little in common with the vaudeville of the French theatre.

MB Leavitt, who was a variety showman, claimed the word originated from the French "vaux de ville" which meant "worth of the city, or worthy of the city's patronage", but in all likelihood, the name was merely selected "for its vagueness, its faint, but harmless exoticism, and perhaps its connotation of gentility."

Initially, Leavitt and Sargent's shows didn't differ from the coarser material presented in earlier itinerant entertainments, but their use of the term 'vaudeville' points to an early effort to cater variety amusements to a growing middle class. Therefore, needing a little touch of respectability, questionable references and innuendo was done away with.

Some of the savvier show managers were more successful in tapping an emerging class of white collar workers, with more money and leisure time on their hands. In the 1880's, a former ringmaster with a circus turned theatre manager, Tony Pastor capitalized on this and his New York theatres began to feature "polite" variety programmes.

He was hoping to draw in a potential audience from female and family-based shopping traffic, so he barred the sale of liquor in his theatres, eliminated questionable material from his shows, and offered gifts of coal and hams to attendees. Pastor's experiment proved successful and other managers followed suit.

Catch it at the Tata Experimental Theatre in Mumbai, where an Indian cast is putting the finishing touches to the play

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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