Funnyman Allen Lewis Rickman portrays one member of a famous Vaudeville duo that parted on bitter terms and haven’t spoken for a decade in the Bristol Riverside Theatre’s hilarious production of The Sunshine Boys.
Running through March 31, the production is a lovely homage to the award-winning late playwright, Neil Simon, and a showcase for a great deal of talent.
With noted actor-director, Carl Wallnau as Willie Clark, his comic partner in crime, Rickman’s character of Al Lewis is truly memorable. Both men and their co-stars will have you laughing until you cry!
The story begins when a big TV network attempts to bring the two legendary (and cranky) comics together one last time, it turns out to be easier said than done. The Sunshine Boys is a touching story full of memories, regrets, and the laughter that accompanies a beloved lifelong friendship.
Lewis most recent films, include the Coen Bros. Oscar-nominated movie A Serious Man, Barry Levinson’s You Don’t Know Jack (with Al Pacino), and playing a Hasidic truck driver and technical advisor in John Tuturro’s Finding Gigolo (with Liv Schreiber).
On television, he has had recurring roles on Boardwalk Empire, Public Morals, and played comic Red Skelton on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Lewis has frequent credits on and off Broadway and has often been hired as a technical adviser and Yiddish coach for movies and television projects because of his affinity for the Yiddish language and the Yiddish culture.
Here is Rickman’s intimate look at The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon, his love of comedy, and his brilliant career.
Please tell me about this production of The Sunshine Boys.
Allen Lewis Rickman: I am thrilled that they hired me. Carl [Wallnau] had previously worked at the Bristol Riverside Theatre a few times and the artistic director Keith Baker decided to do this show and wanted Carl in the show. Carl recommended me, so we recorded a scene and sent it to Keith, who is a really good director, and the rest is history. It has been a real joy to work on this.
You have an affinity for Neil Simon and The Sunshine Boys.
Yes, I think this is Neil Simon’s best play; certainly the best of his earlier plays.
Why do you say that?
I love the milieu; comedy is my thing more than anything else. I am a student of comedy, I am an old comedy nut from way back way. In fact, I watched black and white movies on the broadcast stations when I was a child.Which ones did you enjoy?The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and Smith and Dale. I would say that Smith and Dale – a wonderful Vaudeville team — were the obvious inspiration for The Sunshine Boys. I remember when I was 14 borrowing an LP from a friend in the early 1950’s. They even did a very famous doctor sketch, but Neil Simon gets into burlesque in his doctor sketch, which is too sexy for Vaudeville.
I recently saw Stan & Ollie, a wonderful new movie about another fabulous comic duo.
I agree, it is a lovely movie. They do a beautiful job.
What is your involvement with Neil Simon’s movies and plays?
I was in the original Broadway production of Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor and The Dinner Party. I loved the Odd Couple movie, as well as The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl, and Plaza Suite. I have done three different characters in Laughter on the 23rd Floor, and under Carl’s direction, I did a production of Prisoner of Second Avenue. I also loved The Odd Couple TV show.
Why do you feel Neil Simon’s work is so enduring and that his spills over to this production of The Sunshine Boys?
Neil Simon is sort of a picture taker. His plays capture an environment, a moment in time of a special group of people – second and third generation American Jews. What’s such great fun about him is that the humor that comes from the eastern European Jewish mentality. The rhythms and the sensibility is fun. That’s what I enjoy about The Sunshine Boys. You have to ask yourself; what if these guys and the shtick that they do is who they actually are? It’s a very smart show and it is a tremendous amount of fun.
How long have you been an actor?
I have been acting professionally for more than 30 years. I was a film major in college, where I was editing 16 mm, and the only graduate in Brooklyn College to be granted tenure (He joked). I became more serious about acting in the late 1980’s.
What else are you involved with?
My wife, Elena, and are touring in two shows, Tevye Served Raw and Yiddish Essence. We are going to Bucharest at the end of May for an International Yiddish Theater Festival, and we have toured L.A., Toronto, and elsewhere with these two shows.
Talk about your work on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is my favorite show.
I worked on the show in several capacities. I was the technical advisor for a scene shot in a synagogue. They hired me because I know how these things work. My biggest involvement was playing Red Skelton. They were not looking for a dead ringer, but instead someone who was roughly in the ballpark, who could do his cadence and his timber. We watched Red Skelton’s show every Tuesday night, so I just did the homework and it was a very nice experience.
Okay, I need to hear more details.
It was one episode, a scene with a lot of production. They were at the Copa Cabana and with all of the dancing girls, and it takes time. It took one day and it was a beautiful production. Boardwalk Empire was another joy of my life, I was also a consultant on that show. In fact, I coached Michael [Zegan], who plays Joel on Mrs. Maisel on that show.
Lastly, why should people come and see this production of The Sunshine Boys?
It’s a funny show and it’s touching, so what more do you want? You will laugh, you will be moved. Two cranky old men, sexy women and a lot of laughs, really, what else do you need?
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