The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 16, 2013

Simon musical a family affair at Stone's Throw

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The cast and crew of a play usually become an extended family. The small cast and crew of "They're Playing Our Song" have a head start on family matters -- it includes three separate ones.

"We're always talking about how the cast comes together as strangers and becomes a family," said director Bill Walsh. "We've had a leg up on that with this show."

Two of the crew members are husband and wife. Three chorus members are mother, father and daughter. And the two stars of the play, Karl and Shannon Wendt, are married.

The play is the third in an inadvertently scheduled series of Neil Simon plays at Stone's Throw Dinner Theatre. "They're Playing Our Song" is unique among Simon's work, however -- it's based on a real-life romance, and it's a musical.

Carole Bayer Sager wrote the lyrics of the play and Marvin Hamlisch wrote the music. The two are depicted in the characters Sonia Walsk and Vernon Gersch, who loosely depict a collaboration becoming a romance.

In another twist, Simon incorporated Greek-style choruses to represent each characters internal thoughts.

The initial Broadway run starred Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz. After its run, it went on a national tour, including a stop in Washington D.C., where Welsh first saw it.

"I was fortunate to see it up there, and I fell in love with it," Welsh said. "When Hamlisch died (in August, 2012), I took that as a sign that there couldn't be a better time to do the show as a tribute."

Karl and Shannon Wendt have taken on the roles of the couple brilliantly. And because they are married, Welsh said they get extra rehearsal time to memorize the large amount of lyrics and lines that await any character in a small-cast play.

"When they have been married as long as they have, with two beautiful daughters, they have some chemistry that comes through as actors," Welsh said. "It shows on stage. Plus they get unofficial extra rehearsal time. They have an edge."

Chorus members include Judy Boyd, Casey Garman, Janet Garman, Lauden Baker, Daniel Asmus and Sonny Garman.

The musical is perfect for the theater's intimate settings, Welsh said. The lyrics are clear, the dialogue is vintage Simon, and the play is full of emotion.

"It hits a full circle of emotions," Welsh said. "With Simon's dialogue, you'll laugh. And you'll shed a tear or two through the anticipation, romance and when things aren't going so well."

Want to go?

"They're Playing Our Song" will be shown until Aug. 25 at Stone's Throw Dinner Theatre. Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Dinner is served an hour prior to showtime. Tickets: $26.50, $23.50 for seniors, students and youth and $14 for children. Details: 417-358-9665.

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