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THEATER

From 'Dinner' Guest to Regular

In a true Cinderella story, Anette Michelle Sanders lands a big role in Neil Simon's new play.

December 19, 1999|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer

But in September, she said, "I made a decision that if I was going to pursue an acting career, this was the time to do it. I took a leap of faith and quit my job."

As for what happened next, she said, "I was just incredibly lucky."

Wilson left the show after appearing in the first preview. Sanders played Wilson's role in previews the next two nights and, on the evening of the third preview, she was told she would be taking over the role.

"That I went on as understudy the other two shows was plenty, but to find out they were actually giving me the role was phenomenal," said Sanders, whose strawberry-blond hair was cut and dyed dark brown for the role.

Sanders said Wilson, whom she had gotten to know during rehearsals, called her at home in Van Nuys to wish her well.

"She wanted to let me know she was happy for me and that she was just thinking good thoughts for all of us," Sanders said. "She's just the most gracious, classy woman I think I've ever encountered."

Sanders said she feels a "special bond" with Ritter because he was the first cast member she met, but the play is "very much an ensemble piece, and they've all been so wonderful. Everyone has gone out of their way to make me feel part of the cast, which I completely do."

"It's very exciting for somebody like that to step into a major role," said Simon. The playwright has replaced actors in his new plays about a dozen times over the years, but almost always during rehearsals, which makes casting understudies very important, he said. Because he had been so impressed with Sanders' work when she filled in as an audition reader, Simon said "we knew she was capable."

And he wasn't disappointed the first night Sanders took over the role during previews.

"What was wonderful about Anette, she was not only up on every line of the play, but I was in the midst of putting in a new scene that night," said Simon. "She learned it that afternoon and she gave, I thought, a flawless performance.

"I guess we watched her do two shows and I said, 'I don't think on such short notice we could find somebody better than Anette.' "

Simon said Sanders plays her role "pretty much the way I heard it in my head. She's very witty, and she does something you always hope an actor or actress would do, which is to bring something to the part where you don't have to constantly tell them what this is about or 'You should do this.' "

Sanders, who is engaged to a dermatologist, Gary Rosen, is unsure what impact being in a new play by Simon in one of the country's most respected regional theaters will have on her career.

For the time being, she said, "I'm enjoying it for what it is."

*

"The Dinner Party," Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 628-2772. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Also Thursday, Dec. 28 and Dec. 30, 2:30 p.m.; Monday and Dec. 27, 8 p.m. Dark Friday-Saturday, Dec. 31-Jan. 1. Ends Jan. 16. $33-$42.

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