There's a new odd couple in town -

Felix and Oscar have been transformed into Florence and Olive in Neil Simon's laugh-riot revised production of THE ODD COUPLE. Barbara Eden, best known as the charming genie on the hit television series I Dream of Jeannie, will star as the neurotically neat Florence and Rita McKenzie will portray the unkempt Olive.



"Simon's adaptation for female characters works just as well as it did for the original males...Barbara Eden as neurotic neatnik Florence Unger and Rita McKenzie as slovenly Olive Madison create comic sparks...they know just where the laughs are going to be and they go after them with zest." Little Rock Democrat Gazette

"[Barbara Eden] hardly looked a day removed from her I Dream of Jeannie days...as she took the final bow in a well received The Odd Couple -Female Version...she even gave the magical Jeannie arms-fold-and-nod to the delight of the crowd...the entire supporting cast and stars were crowd pleasers judging from the standing ovation they drew." Arkansas Times


Eden, Ensemble keep audiences laughing
December 2, 2001

Barbara Eden may be the star whose name helped defy a wealth of local arts competition Friday and attract a near-capacity audience to the unveiling of the national touring production of Neil Simon's gender-bending version of The Odd Couple at the Municipal Auditorium. And indeed, the former star of television's I Dream of Jeannie even smiled and paid small homage to past fame by crossing her arms and blinking the lights out, genie fashion, at the conclusion of curtain calls. But it was the entire ensemble that created comedy magic on stage for two and a half hours Friday, resurrecting wonderful characters and delivering lines in such hilarious fashion that Simon himself would have been chuckling out loud. A lot. Longtime theater-goers need not worry that familiarity will dilute the humor; even those who have seen The Odd Couple performed countless times in the past -- that includes critics -- will exit smiling. And oh, to be one of the few experiencing this Simon hit on stage for the very first time. Suffice it to say that the eight-member professional cast insightfully directed by Joal Paley create a memorable comic experience. Scenic designer Thomas Buderwitz designed a single set that exudes depth. The setting is Olive Madisonís apartment, the site of a weekly casual Trivial Pursuit-and-refreshments soiree for six women friends. Conflict arrives late with the depressed arrival of Florence Unger, played by Eden; separated from her husband, Unger is at the end of a hinted rope and Madison agrees to take her in. But friends don't always make the best roommates. Olive, played as saucy yet sentimental by Rita McKenzie, is of course the female equivalent of the slob Oscar Madison, played in the movie by Walter Matthau, who passed the baton to Jack Klugman. Florence has the same annoying faults of the character Felix Unger, portrayed by the magnificent Jack Lemmon and Tony Randall on screen and television respectively. Olive/Oscar is the lovable slob; Florence/Felix is the obsessive neatnik. A match made anywhere but in heaven. On stage, the frustration leads to emotional war when Olive sets up a blind date with the Costazuela Brothers upstairs, and Florence empties the room of all romantic possibility in record time. Eden and McKenzie play off one another beautifully, each as adept with a double-take or expression as they are with Simonís classic dialogue. Humor escalates when the Costazuela brothers (the male equivalent of the coo-coo Pidgeon sisters in the original) arrive, both inadvertently mangling the English language -- very advertently showing off chest hair -- as they embark on a double date with high hopes. Larry Thomas and David Castro are a scream as Manolo and Jesus. (So is Eden when remarking sheís dating "Jesus") But the star's friends elevate laugh totals: Shirley Prestia with comically pointed sarcasm and Georgia Engel, still remembered from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, here a treasure stealing multiple scenes by playing her naivetÈ for laughs. Elizabeth Alley and Mary Pat Gleason round out the talented cast in a rare touring attraction where stars belong on everyoneís dressing room doors. Lubbock-Avalanche Journal (December 2, 2001)


February, 2002

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has been offered in a variety of incarnations. Starring two men. Starring two women. As a stage show, a movie and TV comedy. I even saw a production that featured twin brothers portraying Oscar and Felix as...well, as twin brothers! But Barbara Eden brings a new dimension to Simon’s enduring franchise in the female version of “The Odd Couple” now being presented at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. The star of TV’s long-running sitcom I Dream Of Jeannie fronts an excellent cast that breathes new life into Simon’s play -- a show that’s become sorely dated. Thankfully, this version has been revised and updated to accommodate the gender-twist and the realities of the new century. Audiences will notice other familiar faces in the cast, but notoriety is less important than talent. This ensemble has plenty of it -- and works together with ease. Eden appears as Florence Unger, the neurotic neatnik originated by Art Carney, created for the screen by Jack Lemmon and later on TV by Tony Randall. Co-star Rita McKenzie is terrific as Olive Madison, the sloppy roommate
played on stage and in the film by Walter Matthau and on television by Jack Klugman. Florence has the same annoying faults as Felix Unger - the mania for cleanliness, the passion for fine cooking and the “moose call in the night” to clear her constantly-clogging sinuses. And Olive is a carbon copy of Oscar - slovenly, yet sentimental. And Florence really, really gets on her nerves as Olive does a slow burn that finally erupts. Eden and McKenzie have partnered on stage before -- and the chemistry is evident. McKenzie with her Long Island accent and tough demeanor, is the perfect foil for the fragile Eden -- who looks virtually the same as she did the last time she popped out of a magic bottle on the TV screen. Like many Simon plays, the first act tends to drag as he works to establish the characters. Most of the laughs in Act I are sparked by the gal pals of Olive and Florence who stop in for a saucy game of Trivial Pursuit. The audience may have to make a conscious leap to forget that Eden is not playing Jeannie here. Still sparkly and peppy after all these years, she has to tone that down a bit to capture Florence’s sullen moods. But it doesn’t take long for Eden and the gallery to feel comfortable together and from there, the play soars with comedy. To me, the funniest scene is still the “date” with the Costazuela brothers, the Spanish upstairs neighbors. Larry Thomas and David Castro are absolutely great as the libidinous Latinos who bring a box of candy that is “no good” and make an overt display of chest hair. Thomas - familiar to Seinfeld fans as the “Soup Nazi,” and Castro, seen most recently in the movie, Pearl Harbor, help to kick up the comedy. And they play an important role in the play’s conclusion. Among the Trivial Pursuit players is Georgia Engel, who played the sweet but slow-witted Georgette in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She reprises that same type of character in the show. Other players -- Elizabeth Alley, Mary Pat Gleason and Shirley Prestia -- provide gentle humor and scathing sarcasm that is so appealing. This show isn’t your father’s Odd Couple. Eden’s rock-solid performance and apt supporting players make this new version a delight. Make sure to catch Eden’s tribute to her alter ego as she leaves the stage. She turns to the audience and delivers a Jeannie arms-fold-and-nod. Blink -- and she’s gone.
Dale M King, Boca Raton News (February, 2002)


'Odd Couple' shines with cast, gags
Tuesday, March 12, 2002

In 1985, a rewritten version of Neil Simon's 1965 beloved comedy The Odd Couple came on the scene with the lead roles reversed by gender. That adaptation, concluding its run at Miller Auditorium Tuesday evening, brings with it more than a sex change. Gags have been updated and made gender-specific, and a stage full of women characters creates a noticeably different tone compared to the original play. Only the core situation remains. The laid-back sportswriter, now named Olive Madison (instead of Oscar), is driven to distraction by her obsessively fastidious roommate, Florence (no longer Felix) Unger. The weekly poker parties with men and stinky cigars are replaced with weekly gatherings of Olive's lady friends playing Trivial Pursuit. The English Pigeon sisters here become the even more comical Spanish Costazuela brothers. Since by now everybody knows the story plot by heart, the production and performers must make the show worth our while. Strong production values, capped by director Joal Paley's fine pacing, succeeded in makingthis version a new theatrical experience. Barbara Eden as Florence offered a capable performance that was enhanced simply by her vivacious presence. She created a cocoon of fussiness that emphasized the wearing quality needed for both the Florence and Felix roles. Rita McKenzie as Olive established an entirely different and contrasting style for her character -- loud-mouthed and careless in demeanor. We understand instantly why she calls Florence a "human accident." Comic seasoning also is found in the lady friends, particularly with Mary Pat Gleason's "Mickey" and Georgia Engel's "Vera." Both performers clearly are well-versed in comic shtick and timing, and whenever they were onstage they automatically brought smiles to the faces of the audience. Absolutely riotous were David Castro as Jesus Costazuela and Larry Thomas as his brother Manolo, the Spaniard airline workers living in the same tenement. When they could be heard clearly, their language mutilation was enormously funny. Spanish men, they assert, are "cake-winners" (instead of bread-winners), and homosexuals are "happy people." They constantly unbutton their shirt fronts to reveal hairy chests whenever trying to impress Florence and Olive at the mangled dinner party. Nor will the supercilious grins frozen on their faces soon be forgotten. New gags kept the laughs coming in this production, and though it will not replace the original version, this show brings its own comic pleasures. By CJ Gianakaris, Kalamazoo Gazette (March 12, 2002)

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