Brooklyn-born actress Didi Conn, who is best known as the bubblegum-pink-haired “Beauty School Drop-out” Frenchy in the 1978 classic Grease, has never been one to do things by the book. This includes learning how to ice skate.
At the age of 67, Conn recently appeared on England’s Dancing On Ice, which follows a similar structure as America’s Dancing with the Stars. Not only was this Conn’s first-ever experience stepping foot on a frozen floor, the competition required her to rehearse and perform routines in front of millions of viewers.
Talk about nerve-wracking.
But directly after the series ended, Conn returned to safer, less slippery ground at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas, where she starred as Peg in the all-new play Middletown, written by Dan Clancy, from March 31-April 2.
“My first impression of doing Middletown in Las Vegas was, how wonderful to be on a regular wood floor!” Conn told The Times. “Acting was so easy, it was such a joy.”
Currently, Conn’s skates are remaining in storage as the show heads east to the Bucks County Playhouse, appearing on the New Hope stage from April 17–21. Along with Conn, Middletown boasts the all-star cast of Don Most (Ralph Malph on Happy Days), Cindy Williams (Shirley Feeney on Laverne & Shirley), and Adrian Zmed (Bachelor Party and T.J. Hooker).
A heartfelt and joyful story about two couples reminiscing about their friendship that’s 33 years in the making, Middletown explores the highs, lows, and everything in between. The initial workshop of Middletown received a Carbonell nomination for Best New Work in 2017, and was originally presented at the Jan McArt Reading Series and West Boca Theatre Company.
“I wanted to tell a relatable, every-person’s story in a direct and straightforward manner, where human emotions are front and center without bells, whistles, special effects, or props,” said Clancy, best known for his play The Timekeepers, which ran off-Broadway and in Israel for 13 years. “I wanted the words to speak for themselves.”
For Conn, the message of the show — friendship — hits home.
“To be with Cindy and Donny and Adrian, it was like an old-time reunion for us because one way or another, we’ve all worked with each other, or we were all at Paramount at the same time. And the audiences loved seeing us together. I couldn’t even get the show started, they were applauding for each of us so enthusiastically,” she said. “Boy, did that do my heart good.”
Conn, whose career has yet to take her to Bucks County, is excited to step foot into the Playhouse (and bring her family to Sesame Place).
“I hear it’s fabulous, that it’s a beautiful theater,” she said. “And Alexander Fraser, who runs it, is someone I’ve known from New York and haven’t seen in a while. So we’re being welcomed with open arms.”
In Middletown, Conn portrays Peg, a character she said is a stark contrast from her usual roles, and one she didn’t initially have her eye on. When she first read the script, Conn was immediately drawn to Dotty, who is played by Williams.
“Most of the time, I play variations in the theme of Dotty, people who are a little bit different, let’s put it that way,” Conn said. “As I read it again, I thought, ‘Oh, how wonderful to be able to play Peg.’ She’s very, very different than I am in terms of being more internal. Dotty says anything that’s on her mind, and is someone who is much more out there. But to play someone who is more introverted, and yet very much a devoted friend but in a different way than I usually express it, I felt very blessed. The more we did it, the deeper I fell in love. The writing is so touching.”
In Conn’s opinion, a story like Middletown is needed in today’s fast-paced day and age, when life simply keeps getting in the way.
“We all have friends, and sometimes we call them, sometimes we don’t. I hope that people leave the theater and call some friend of theirs that they haven’t spoken to in a while, and know how important it is to have a good friend,” she said. “It’s very real of what people go through when you’ve known each other from your early 30s up until your 70s. It’s funny, it’s touching.”
After its run at the Playhouse, Middletown will transition to the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington, Delaware from May 29-June 2. During this stretch of shows, which Williams is unable to participate in, Conn will play Dotty, with Sally Struthers (All in the Family) joining the cast as Peg.
All performances of Middletown are directed by Tony Award-winning director Seth Greenleaf, and produced by GFour Productions (Menopause the Musical and the Tony-nominated Fiddler on the Roof). ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org