“Middletown,” a dramedy by playwright Dan Clancy, was recently presented at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pa., with Donny Most, of “Happy Days” fame, among the cast members.
“The play is about two couples from Middletown, N.J., that have been friends for 33 years who have dinner every Friday night,” said Most. “Their personalities are kind of opposite in some ways and maybe you wouldn’t expect them to be friends, but on the other hand, maybe there is a recipe for a great friendship, and it certainly works for these four people. It takes you through all the ups and downs of marriage and having kids and going through all those years, which I certainly can relate to, and it seems like the audiences are relating, too: friendship and things that we all go through in life or have shared experiences with. …
“I saw the key art for the poster and it was, like, a roller coaster and I thought, ‘Oh, okay, that’s interesting.’ And then, as we’ve been doing the play and I see the audience reaction, it has totally turned out to be that. There’s great laughs, so much heart and a lot of emotion that people go through during the play, and it’s rewarding to have that kind of reaction. The play has gone beyond what I’d expected.”
(Most also enjoys singing with a band, and is particularly fond of standards, big band music, and legendary crooners such as Frank Sinatra. On May 5, he will perform at the County Seat Jazz & Blues Street Fest in downtown Freehold. The Fest starts at noon with CMJ Jazz Band performing at 1 p.m., followed by the great Chuck Lambert Band at 2:30 p.m. and The Donny Most Band at 4:15 p.m.)
Most’s co-stars in “Middletown” included Didi Conn, who portrayed Frenchy in “Grease”; Adrian Zmed of “T.J. Hooker,” “Dance Fever” and “Grease 2” fame; and Cindy Williams, who was best known for her role as Shirley Feeney of the “Happy Days” spinoff, “Laverne and Shirley.”
Most says the familiarity of the cast with one another goes beyond just his connection to Williams.
“Cindy and I had seen each other at certain events and functions, but we haven’t worked together on the acting side since the original episode of ‘Happy Days’ where Laverne and Shirley appeared as guest stars, and then with the great response they got and how good it played, then of course they got a spinoff and their own show. So that was the last time that we actually worked together. But like I said, we’ve seen each other and gotten to know each other better over the years. But it’s a joy to be able to work with her again and I’m thoroughly loving it.
“Didi … talk about how things all intersect: Her first job when she got to L.A. was playing my girlfriend on ‘Happy Days.’ So that goes back. And then Adrian and I use to work together and played ball on the same Hollywood celebrity softball team as well as working on a tour of ‘Grease’ back in the late ’90s. I worked with Adrian for about six months on that tour. So there’s all these connections with the cast.
“I don’t know how much that all played into the casting because I don’t think they knew. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I think they were surprised at how many connections there were. I think the producer and director knew that Cindy and I had worked together, but I think that was it. I don’t think they knew the other connections. Adrian worked with Didi in ‘Grease 2,’ and I’m not sure if Cindy had ever worked with Adrian or not, but I think it was just one of those serendipitous kind of things that just happened.”
The play has also been presented at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, with the same four actors. And another run will begin May 28 at The Delaware Theater Company in Wilmington, Del., with Zmed, Conn, Sally Struthers and Anson Williams. Is there a national tour in its future?
“That’s the plan, and I think it will,” said Most. “Nothing is concrete yet, or set in stone… I’m feeling excited and encouraged about the prospects for this show.”
When you’re an actor who achieves success like Most did playing Ralph Malph on “Happy Days,” it can be a struggle at times to break free of that persona, and that same success can quickly turn to a hindrance. Was this the case, and how did he overcome it?
“It was a definite challenge and I left the show after the seventh season,” he says. “The show ran 11 years, but when my contract was up I thought it was time to move on, because I knew what I was up against and what I’d be facing, and I felt it was time to try to climb that wall, and it was difficult. It’s kind of a double-edged sword: When something is that successful and so intertwined with a period or genre or whatever you want to label it … to be totally honest, yes it was very difficult. I did manage to continue working, sometimes in theater. I didn’t want to do TV, so I told my agents I wanted a break from television, I only wanted to do movies and theater. I couldn’t even get auditions for movies, because back then, especially if you were in a sitcom, you were like a second class citizen to film. It’s not like today where people go back and forth between the mediums.
“But I continued to work, and I directed three independent films and started getting more and more. And as time passed, it started to get better. So as of late, I’ve been doing all kinds of roles in films and totally different kinds of parts. I’ve had a recurring role on ‘Glee’ and … I’ll be doing another movie in July and then I’ve got my own projects to hopefully be directing again. There’s a few that are getting some major traction and I feel confident getting behind a camera and doing that, as well. I love doing that, I love doing theater, I love doing film. I love getting onstage with a big band, so it’s kind of an interesting combination of things that are happening right now. I love them all and if I was doing one for a while, then I’d be yearning. Like after several months of doing theater, I’ll be yearning to tackle some more films, and then a live stage with music, and then directing.”
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