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Marlo Thomas Is Still a Marvelous “That Girl” in off Broadway’s “Clever Little Lies”

I don’t know where to begin with Marlo Thomas. First, she opens tonight in Joe DiPietro’s comedy “Clever Little Lies” at the Westside Theater. Marlo is a month away from 78 years old! She looks like she’s 40. She has such wonderful comic timing, that when she stops the show in “Clever Little Lies”– and I mean, stops it cold– you will not stop laughing. Or gasping for air. Trust me, it happens to everyone on stage, too.

Marlo has a lot of good will built up over 50 years in showbiz–first as Ann Marie, the quintessential modern girl in “That Girl” torn between her dad and her boyfriend Donald (the late great Ted Bessel). Then, of course, she was a real feminist who pioneered the books and other media of “Free to Be…You and Me.” Wait– there’s also the showbiz cred of being the daughter of the amazing Danny Thomas, and inheriting not only his comedy legacy but also the promotion of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Let’s not leave out the long happy marriage to Phil Donahue. And all her other acting credits including Broadway, off Broadway, more TV and movies. “Friends” fans will remember she recurred as Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston’s) mother.

But now here she in this very Neil Simon-esque ninety minute comedy about a family with a lot of secrets that all come bursting out. Alice is a modern New Rochelle matriarch with a long marriage to Bill Sr. (Greg Mullavey, always Mary Hartman’s husband Tom in my mind). Her son Billy (George Merrick) is married to Jane (Kate Wetherhead). The younger couple has a new baby. And a lot of issues.

“Clever Little Lies” is quite clever in that it’s based on a twist and a little bit of a mind game that you don’t expect. I won’t give it away. Suffice to say, when Marlo does stop that stage cold, and proceeds from there, you will be paying close attention. And she is so invested in Alice, that it’s worth every second. It certainly took my mind off my own problems.

I did get a little tour last week of the backstage area. Westside Theater is nothing fancy. Marlo has a 9 by 12 cell just off stage that functions as her dressing room. She’s fixed it up and can take naps between shows on matinee days. She told me she’s able to tune out the noise outside–not easy to do. Phil has been there at every performance, and I’m sure he’ll be there tonight, as well her famous pals like Elaine May and Stanley Donen.

There will be a threat of moving “Clever Little Lies” to a Broadway house. But I hope not. It’s a little comedy gem that can run forever on West 43rd. St. And Ann Marie’s dad– “Mister Marie”– played so memorably by Lew Parker– would be so proud that his little girl made good.