'Bells Are Ringing': A story from a simpler time

By Scott Tady ">

'Bells Are Ringing': A story from a simpler time

By Scott Tady , Times Staff

As a telephone operator, Ella Peterson knows that morally and ethically she cannot interfere with the lives of her callers.

Naturally, she ignores that cardinal rule, setting off a chain of events that propel the hijinks in the musical comedy "Bells Are Ringing."

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera begins its six-day run of "Bells Are Ringing" at the Benedum Center.

"The show's a lot of fun," says Broadway and TV veteran Ray DeMattis, who portrays a comical character named Sandor. "It's from a simpler time. The music has a lushness in it and a sweetness about it."

And though the jokes were written a half-century ago, "they still work," DeMattis says. "That's a test of good writing."

You're at least in your 40s if you remember the last time the Pittsburgh CLO presented "Bells Are Ringing." The year was 1959, one year before the release of a cinematic version starring Dean Martin and Judy Holliday.

Set in 1950s Manhattan, Ella works for a telephone answering service, Susananswerphone, where her life becomes entangled with the troubled callers on the other end of her line.

Without even seeing him, she falls in love with one of those callers, playwright Jeff Moss.

CLO's production stars Victoria Clark and Robert Cuccioli in the roles of Ella and Jeff.

Clark's Broadway credits include "Titanic" and "Cabaret"; Cuccioli earned a Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Dr. Jekyll in "Jekyll & Hyde."

DeMattis, too, has an impressive Broadway resume, appearing in the original production of "Grease" and the Tony-winning "City of Angels." He charmed CLO audiences last year as Hines in "The Pajama Game." But more people recognize him from his recurring role as an accountant on the former "The Cosby Show," and from an Olive Garden commercial where he portrays Uncle Mike.

Unlike "Guys and Dolls," "Grease," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and other old standbys, "Bells Are Ringing" hasn't been performed a bunch of times recently on local stages. That can be a good thing, DeMattis says.

"Because some people don't know it, that makes it fun to introduce the characters to them," DeMattis says.

And though the show's broad humor clearly falls under the realm of "family entertainment," spectators who came of age during the cellular phone and beeper era may need a little help understanding some of the action.

"Parents will probably have to explain to them what an answering service is," DeMattis says.

Monday, July 9, 2001

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