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BWW Interview: Director Bruce Kimmel Talks THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

BWW Interview: Director Bruce Kimmel Talks THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

Actor/director/author Bruce Kimmel is best known to audiences for his tremendous work with Kritzerland, his own company that produces updated albums of classic musicals as well as recordings of new ones like his A Carol Christmas, produced last year at Group Rep and currently nominated for several BroadwayWorld Awards. Kimmel is about to open The Man Who Came to Dinner at Group Rep on December 6. In our convesation he talks about his fondness for the play and gives us his vision for a successful production of it.

How do you envision The Man Who Came to Dinner onstage?

BK: Fast. Funny. I love the play, have played Banjo twice, so it's really fun to come back to it as a director. The comedy is as funny as it's always been and it's also great to be able to bring whatever we can bring to it. But, for me, pace is key - the play can run long, but I'm making sure that doesn't happen here.

Why do you think it has endured all these years even though it's a period piece with the mention of many, many names people today do not recognize?

BK: The central situation is so relatable - someone takes over your house and your life, and disrupts everything, but, in the end, ends up being helpful to people. Add to that, the assortment of crazies who populate Sheridan Whiteside's world and it's just a recipe for fun. The period aspect is never a problem for me. People told me no one would "get" Li'l Abner when I directed it - yet, they did. People told me how dated Dial "M" for Murder was, and yet the Group Rep's audiences ate it up. In fact, any time anyone tells me something is dated I immediately want to do it just to prove them wrong. Yes, some of the name references will go right over people's heads, but it doesn't really matter. Listen, some young folks don't know who Robert Redford is. We're thinking about putting a glossary in the program.

How do you feel about the supporting players adding so much to the comedic elements of the story and in assisting to display different facets of Whiteside's persona?

BK: As I've been impressing on the cast in rehearsals, the characters in Whiteside's world are larger than life (Banjo, Beverley Carlton, Lorraine Sheldon, Professor Metz, etc.), while the Stanley family and the folks in their world, are not, and that's what makes this so much fun. And of course, Maggie, Whiteside's secretary, has been part of his world for so long, and yet falls in love with someone from the small town there in. It's just beautifully constructed in that way.

How do you feel about the importance of a terrific set design for this comedy?

BK: Well, we have a reality to deal with - we're in a 99-seat theater. It's a beautiful 99-seat theater, but the stage, while really great for that size theater, is the size it is. We decided to go the traditional route with this production, simply because that seemed the best and most logical way to do it for this theater. I've seen photos of all kinds of sets - and for whatever reason, the traditional always looks best.

Talk about your design team and their valuable contributions

BK: Well, Chris Winfield has been doing sets at the Group Rep for many years - however, this is my first time with him and we're having fun and I think the set will work very well. Douglas Gabrielle, the lighting designer is new to me, too, but Doug Haverty, our producer, thinks very highly of him and it's actually a very simple show to light. Steve Shaw is doing sound, as he always does, and that's a key element of the show, and he always does a fine job. Michael Mullen is doing the costumes - my first time with him - but he's great, really great - does a lot of shows in LA. Props are key, and Leslie Young has been gathering them up, including a great wheelchair for Whiteside. And a shoutout to Brianna Saranchock, who is assistant directing. I block very fast, and then adjust and adjust, and she's great about getting it all down in the book so that if something goes awry, she's got it right there.

Aside from the hysterical comedy, what important message does the play convey?

BK: For the Stanley kids, it's follow your heart and dreams - Whiteside, for all his curmudgeon-ness, is very wise with them. Tolerance. And, of course, in the case of Maggie, love conquers all.

Is there anything you wish to add?

BK: In this nutty world in which we're now living, which seems to be more humorless every day, this play is like a tonic - and we hope audiences will come and laugh. We have a wonderful company of players and these characters are just so much fun. They don't know how to write stuff like this anymore, the craft of it is just breathtaking. And we've all got a little Sherry in us, I think.

With your flair for directing musicals, I think you should consider mounting Sherry at some point. Musically it's better than one might expect.

BK: Well, of course, I recorded the title song for the first Unsung Musicals CD (with Christine Baranski and Jonathan Freeman) and everyone, including the show's authors, love that recording. I haven't ever seen the script - I assume it's the play with songs attached. I'm a huge fan of Larry Rosenthal and have issued a couple of his film scores on Kritzerland. I'll have to take a look at it.

The Man Who Came to Dinner by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman opens at the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre at 10900 Burbank Blvd. on December 6 and runs through January 12. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. For tix go to:

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