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George Wendt flexes his acting chops in Never Too Late

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Never Too Late at the New Theatre Restaurant

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Baby Boomers who grew up watching sitcoms like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and All in the Family get a nostalgic trip back to the past while watching Never Too Late at the New Theatre Restaurant this holiday season. George Wendt and his real-life spouse of 35 years, Bernadette Birkett, don't have to fake the chemistry between them in this 1960s era comedy, spruced up by director Dennis Hennessy. Their genuine affection for each other shines through all their squabbles onstage.

Harry Lambert (played by Wendt), a successful, middle-aged businessman who doesn't mind at all being pampered and waited upon hand and foot by his long-suffering wife, Edith (Birkett), receives the shock of his life when he finds out that Edith, also middle-aged, is pregnant. Since the action takes place in the 60s, the family doctor urges Edith to take it easy and get more rest.

Wendt seems to channel the character of Archie Bunker (minus the racist remarks) as he deals with Edith's situation. He doles out an "allowance" to Edith so she can buy groceries and, until she wises up and calls him on it, keeps the checkbook of their "joint" checking account under lock and key. Blustery and gruff, and then downright confused by turns, Wendt deftly portrays Lambert as a three-dimensional character, not just a buffoon.

The sprightly, youthful-looking Birkett simply glows in her role, making it possible for the audience to completely believe that a woman in her stage of life (she was born in 1946) can easily produce a "little dividend." Although her husband garners more of the guffaws, Birkett's character grows the most, and Edith's transformation from a doormat who delights in running up and down the stairs all day delivering clean laundry to members of the household (including her grown daughter and husband, who inexplicably still live with the woman's parents) to a thoughtful, intelligent woman who stands up for herself is perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of the production.

Craig Benton, as Lambert's put-upon son-in-law, has a field day trying to keep up with Wendt's bombastic humor, and together the pair's performances evoke the best of the old "buddy movies," à la Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. When sober, the two argue endlessly, but when they go out drinking, they get along famously, daring each other to perform progressively more over-the-top stunts. Benton has been a staple in many New Theatre shows, and his performance is always topnotch.

Colleen Fee, a New Theatre first-timer, holds her own as the Lambert's married daughter, who is horrified by the fact that, in her mid-twenties, she is about to become a "big sister."

Kip Niven gives a polished performance, as usual, garnering quite a few chuckles of his own as the fastidious next-door neighbor, who also happens to be the Mayor of the town.

Supporting cast (Michael Rapport as the family doctor, Jeannine Hutchings as the doctor's wife and Edith's best friend, and Tim Caster as a police officer) all deliver solid performances, helping the laughs flow effortlessly.

Of course, the opening act--the food on the buffet line--does not disappoint, either. New Theatre makes a habit of serving consistently amazing entrees, backed up by flavorful accompaniments. The dining choices are a nice blend of "comfort food" (so appreciated on cold winter evenings) and gourmet options. You'll be happy to know that the Theatre's creamy signature mashed potatoes with sweet roasted garlic are on the menu, as well as a zucchini medley, green beans, pasta carota (spiral pasta and mushrooms tossed in a light carrot cream sauce), and polenta. And you won't believe how good cauliflower can taste until you try the deep-fried parmesan-and-herb encrusted cauliflower florets. (I was never a cauliflower fan until I tried these delicious fritters. Betcha can't eat just one! They are truly addictive.)

Main courses include tender grilled pork brisket, fried basa, grilled chicken, roasted beef shoulder tenderloins, and the Chef's Choice--a combination of Italian pork sausage, pork shoulder, and bacon served in a hearty tomato sauce.

Save some room for the Chocolate Incredible dessert, which tastes exactly like what its name implies--incredible!

Although it's not holiday-themed, going to the New Theatre Restaurant to see "Never Too Late" may be the best Christmas present you can give yourself. It's hard to beat an evening of stellar acting, good comedy and mouthwatering food. And the New Theatre delivers all three in spades. No wonder Dramabiz Magazine called it "the best entertainment buy in Kansas City."

THE FINE PRINT
You can catch Never Too Late through January 19, 2014 at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas. Call 913-649-7469 or go to newtheatre.com.

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