COEUR D'ALENE - Next week, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Dennis Franz will do something he hasn't done in years. He'll perform for a live audience.
And he'll have good company on stage, with the likes of Academy Award-winning actress Patty Duke, veteran television, film, and stage actors (and real-life couple) Ellen Travolta and Jack Bannon, and regional stage stars Dane Stokinger and Jessica Skerritt (also a real-life couple).
Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre will celebrate its 45th anniversary with a staged reading starring the blockbuster cast at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
For the one-night-only special event, the actors will present a reading of "Over the River and Through the Woods," a play written by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change), that has been hailed for its dialogue and laughs.
In a staged reading of a play, the actors typically are seated on stage and read from scripts, without sets, props, or full costumes.
Over the River tells the story of Nick, a single Italian-American guy from New Jersey, whose loving but loony grandparents scheme to foil his plans to move to Washington ("Not the close Washington. The far-away Washington - by California.") for a dream job.
Ellen Travolta said the production brought together a cast that has been looking for something they could all do together. Busy schedules, though, have prevented that.
It will be the first time for Franz and Duke to be on stage together. To participate in something like this is wonderful, Travolta said.
"It's rare I get to work with my peers up here, and I just love it. I love working with all of them. Everybody is just terrific," she said.
She's looking forward to the reading.
"It's fun and it's a great cause," she said.
Duke believes, too, this reading will be unforgettable. It's her first time working with CST artistic director Roger Welch, as well.
"All these years, every summer, he's very flattering and offers me something," she said, laughing.
This time, he made an offer she couldn't refuse. The show is funny and fast-paced.
"Thank God, I can finally do it," she told Welch.
Duke, who has been able to spend time this summer playing with her dogs and enjoying the heat, said Franz was "fabulous" at the first read through. She believes the staged reading is an opportunity for the audience to experience something new.
"It's a terrific cast, extremely funny show, with I think a profound affect by the end of it, particularly about aging," she said.
She promises audiences will have a wonderful time.
"They will see professional actors in a different element than they usually are," she said.
Oh, and one more thing.
"What they will do is laugh a lot," Duke added during a phone interview Wednesday.
Welch had long been trying to find a production that would place Franz, Duke, Travolta and Bannon on stage together. All are veterans and award winners, with honors for their work in live theater, TV and the big screen.
"I thought that would be a pretty spectacular event," he said.
He found what he was looking for during a trip to Seattle when he read "Over the River and Through the Woods."
It offered the combination of a great story, humor and the right number of characters, creating a "perfect vehicle" for the cast of six.
As well, a staged reading is simpler to put on than a full production. While the characters do move about, they don't have to memorize lines, so only a limited number of rehearsals are necessary.
He believes they have crazy-good chemistry that will come through on stage.
"They're a special team of performers," he said. "I wouldn't miss it. It's going to be a pretty special event, very funny, very moving."
The production is partially made possible by a sponsorship from Pita Pit USA, and will be held in Boswell Hall's Schuler Performing Arts Center on the campus of North Idaho College.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.cdasummertheatre.com, or by calling the CST box office at (208)769-7780. Prices range from $25-$75, depending on seating.
CST's remaining 2012 lineup also includes Monty Python's Spamalot, the irreverent comedy based on the hit movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, playing July 26 to Aug. 5; and Ragtime, the sweeping, musical epic set in turn-of-the century America, playing Aug. 16 to 26.