Playwright Joe DiPietro, who recently won two Tony Awards for co-writing the musical “Memphis,” has had a busy few years.
His play, “The Art of Murder,” won an Edgar Award.
He wrote the book and lyrics for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” the longest-running musical revue in Off-Broadway history. And several other works have kept him occupied.
So when a friend asked if he would write a romance about her personal life, DiPietro said no, at first.
But after some insistence, he penned the play. After all, who can refuse iconic film and TV star Marion Ross?
The West Coast premiere of DiPietro’s “The Last Romance” opens at the Old Globe on July 30.
Ross giggles with that famous Mrs. Cunningham (“Happy Days”) laugh almost everyone recognizes when she explains, “When I first asked, Joe said ‘What?’ About six months later I called again, and he said, ‘What?’ Then he laughed, and said ‘I’m thinking about it.’ ”
Ross has previously appeared with her real-life mate Paul Michael in DiPietro’s plays “Over the River and Through the Woods” at the Globe, as well as “Barefoot in the Park,” “Love Letters” and “The Last Romance.”
“Paul and I would go to New York often and have dinner with Joe, and a few years ago on Paul’s birthday, Joe said, ‘Here’s your play.’ He had gotten to know us, so it’s based on us a little bit,” Ross said.
Michael plays Ralph Bellini, a widower who’s lost his ray of sunshine. Even his sister can’t fill the emptiness. Then one day he decides to take a different turn on his daily walk and gets a second chance at love. Michael has numerous Broadway, television and film credits to his name, including “Bells Are Ringing,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and more on stage.
His TV appearances include “Seinfeld,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Kojak,” and the films “Pennies from Heaven,” “The Music Within” and “The Streetsweeper.”
“The play is a romance about older people,” Ross (Carol Reynolds) said. “We found a quote from Sir Walter Scott that read, ‘One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.’ And so even though this couple is nearing the end of their lives, they can share this one crowded hour of glorious life.”
“The Last Romance” plays in the Globe’s newer Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Ross is not only excited about the stage in the round, but returning to the Globe in general, although she had a short stint as Queen Elizabeth at the Globe’s recent 75th Anniversary celebration.
Ross earned critical acclaim for her “Arsenic and Old Lace” Broadway and national tours, and for performing with Jean Stapleton in the national tour of “Steel Magnolias.” She also performs “A Lovely Night” a one-woman show celebrating the life, loves and poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
In addition to her long run on TV’s “Happy Days,” Ross has starred in many other TV shows including “Brooklyn Bridge,” “The Gilmore Girls,” and “Brothers & Sisters.”
Kids love her as the voice of grandma on “Sponge Bob Square Pants.”
“The Last Romance” also features opera singer Joshua Jeremiah as The Young Man, and Patricia Conolly as Rose Tagliatelle.
Directed by award-winning actor/director Richard Seer, “The Last Romance” offers a rare opportunity to see two actors perform in a very special play, that Ross assures will entertain.
“I want those who come to know Paul and I don’t think about ourselves as real-life partners when we act together because we’re both professionals,” Ross said. “And there’s kind of a wonderful selfishness among professional people. So Paul would steal the show away from me if I’m not on my toes. So we’re on our own, baby!”