At Wit’s End: An Evening with Oscar Levant in Poughkeepsie

Radio, television and film history buffs will delight in the one-man show about the acclaimed actor, composer and raconteur Oscar Levant, At Wit’s End: An Evening with Oscar Levant. Written by playwright Joel Kimmel and directed by June Prager, it premiered in London and toured the East Coast, and will now be presented in Poughkeepsie on the stage of the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center. Veteran stage actor Chuck Muckle will bring Levant to life in a special performance to benefit the Catherine Street Community Center on Sunday, November 17 at 2 p.m.

Levant was best known to American audiences as a regular panelist on the radio quiz show Information Please, where he impressed audiences with his depth of knowledge and spontaneous jokes. Known to have “positive genius for offhand cutting remarks that couldn’t have been sharper if he’d honed them a week in his mind,” Levant was the popular co-star of classic films like An American in Paris and The Barkleys of Broadway. Of himself, Levant said, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line.”

Always speaking his mind freely with unsettling results, Levant was dubbed “America’s favorite neurotic.” He battled depression throughout life and was plagued by an addiction to prescription drugs. In this production, Muckle portrays the accomplished pianist returning to the stage after a period of institutionalization. Now sharing celebrity anecdotes, biting musings and his sterling musicianship, it becomes apparent that performing may be the only joy that Levant possesses as he battles his inner demons.

Muckle offers audiences a tour-de-force performance as the bon vivant who worked from the 1930s through 1960s and was a friend to leading stars of the era. A musical theatre veteran with extensive credits that include the post-Broadway national tours of Camelot, South Pacific, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and A Christmas Carol, Muckle has played lead roles in New York City and regional theatre, including Judgment at Nuremberg, Cabaret and Lend Me a Tenor. He is also a former music director of Catharine Street’s Poughkeepsie Boys’ Choir, which makes this benefit performance especially important to him.

Kimmel’s stage credits include Lullaby of Broadway: The Life and Lyrics of Al Dubin and Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and his career in television includes The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Facts of Life, The Jeffersons, The Love Boat, Chico and the Man, WKRP in Cincinnati, The Practice and Webster.

At Wit’s End: An Evening with Oscar Levant to benefit Catharine Street Community Center, Sunday, November 17, 2 p.m., $35, Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center, Vassar Street, Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2272, www.catharinecenter.org.

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