Veteran Wichita actress-director Jean Ann Cusick says that when she played the housekeeper Bertha in the farcical "Boeing Boeing" the first time at Crown Uptown several decades ago, she had to wear makeup to look old enough.
"Not now," says Cusick, who reprises Bertha for Crown's revival of the classic romp that opens today and runs through Feb. 7. She plays Bertha as a motherly Cockney who keeps her skirt-chasing boss's life running smoothly by keeping track of the three girls he's wooing at the same time in his swinging bachelor pad.
When a newer, faster Boeing jet is introduced, all schedules go out the window and the bachelor's fly girls all come home to roost at the same time.
"The first time, which I also directed, I played her like Thelma Ritter as sort of a New York curmudgeon. That was pretty easy," says Cusick, whose career has taken her from Tulsa to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
"Now, I'm playing her British, which I see as a little more kindly and motherly. I like that Bertha is in on everything. She gets to feel her importance," Cusick says. "But she also delights in her boss getting caught in his own schemes because he is so cocky."
Playing her boss, Bernard, a successful British architect living in Paris, is Michael Karraker, who has become known at Crown Uptown for his wild-and-crazy antics in memorable supporting roles. Now, he's carrying the show for the first time.
"It's a fun character and one that will give me a chance to show a side that most audiences haven't seen," says Karraker, who recently played the cad who done Roxie wrong in "Chicago." "This time, I'm very much the straight man to my friend Robert (Steve Desmarteau), who arrives for a visit and can't believe I'm juggling three air hostesses at once."
The fiancees are Janet from America (Kimberly Dugger), the most independent-minded and strong-willed; Jacqueline from France (Shannon McMillan), the sweetest and most romantic; and Judith from Germany (Barb Schoenhofer), the most patriotic about her culture.
Director Mike Roark said that the 1961 play, which was revived on Broadway last year, is firmly entrenched in the 1960s.
"I never considered updating it because it wouldn't be funny with today's sensibilities," he said. "We are preserving it as a window to the past on the carefree, sexual revolution atmosphere of the '60s."
When the British play was written in 1961, the architect, his housekeeper and visiting friend were all French living in Paris with stewardesses from America, France and Germany. When Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis made the 1965 movie, the skirt-chasers were American. Roark thinks the comedy works best with them as "lightly British" with just a hint of an accent.
"People have played fast and loose with the nationalities of the characters since it came out," he said. "The last thing I wanted was to fill the stage with heavy French accents; it's too hard to understand."
If you go
What: Vintage 1960s farce
Where: Crown Uptown Theatre, 3207 E. Douglas
When: Opens today and runs Thursday-Sundays through Feb. 7
How much: Tickets: $26.95-$33.95 (plus tax); includes buffet and show. Call 316-681-1566.