Playwright: Neil Simon. At: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie . Tickets: 847-673-6300 or www.northlight.org; $25-$72. Runs through: Dec. 9
"The show must go on" as the old theatrical saying goes, and it definitely applies to Northlight Theatre's much-anticipated production of Neil Simon's 1965 chestnut The Odd Couple.
Northlight artistic director BJ Jones had cast the production as a reunion of sorts for famed veterans of The Second City. The marquee stars included George Wendt of the classic TV show Cheers playing slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison, and Tim Kazurinsky (About Last Night, the forthcoming Scrooge and Marley) playing neat-freak news writer Felix Unger. Bruce Jarchow, another Second City alum, was also along for the ride in the role of the accountant Roy.
But not long before the show officially opened, Wendt had to drop out of the production for coronary bypass surgery. (Various news outlets have reported that he's expected to recover.) So Wendt's understudy, actor Marc Grapey (who was originally cast as the slightly dim-witted cop Murray), assumed the role of Oscar instead.
Some audience members will be disappointed by Wendt's absence, especially since his photo and a co-interview with him prominently appear in the program. But Northlight still delivers a solid and laugh-inducing production of The Odd Couple that would make any professional theater proud.
Simon's often-adapted tale of two bachelors (one divorced, one newly separated) who drive each other nuts while sharing an eight-room New York apartment together might not be cutting-edge comedy after all these years. (Yet in light of the recent U.S. presidential election, left-leaning political types can draw analogies to white males who need to adapt to societal changes.) But The Odd Couple is a show that delivers precision clockwork laughs if done well, and the Northlight production definitely succeeds even with its last-minute casting changes.
Grapey and Kazurinsky work together like old-hand vaudevillians under Jones' skilled direction, even if there is a slight age difference between the two. Grapey's youth also makes the attraction of the neighboring British Pigeon sisters (a delightful duo of Katherine Keberlein and Molly Glynn in very mod outfits by costumer Rachel Laritz) much more palpable.
Oscar and Felix's poker-playing buddies are also great. In addition to Jarchow, Phil Ridarelli, William Dick and Peter DeFaria (convincingly taking over Grapey's cop role) all are worth their salt in terms of comic timing and crafting their eccentric and often aggravated characters.
So while celebrity-seeking audiences may miss the star power that Wendt would have lent to Northlight's The Odd Couple, regular theatergoers will recognize the show for what it is: a great comic vehicle that can still stand with a great cast who perform it all exceedingly well.