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October 30, 2014

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THEATER:

Straight man of Allen & Rossi cracks wise just off Broadway

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After more than half a century of entertaining, Las Vegas singer, comedian and actor Steve Rossi is set to make his debut in an off-Broadway production.

“Don’t Leave It All to Your Children!” begins previews tonight at the Actors Temple Theatre and is scheduled to run through June 28.

The 90-minute musical revue is an adaptation of “Senior Class,” both written and directed by Saul Ilson.

The 76-year-old Rossi is part of an ensemble cast of four that includes Barbara Minkus (“Picon Pie”), Marcia Rodd (“The Last of the Red Hot Lovers”) and Ronnie Schell (“Gomer Pyle”). Rossi and Schell have done “Senior Class” at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs, Calif., for the past four years.

“The producers saw ‘Senior Class’ and liked it but they didn’t know if it was strong enough for Broadway,” Rossi says. “Now with the new theme and new material, it looks pretty strong.”

The revue is about Baby Boomers becoming seniors. “There are a series of vignettes about getting older and about life,” Rossi explains.

Rossi, a native New Yorker who grew up in Southern California, has performed in every medium but a Broadway play. “Don’t Leave It All to Your Children!” gets him close. At 339 W. 47th St., the Actors Temple is about a block off the Great White Way.

Best known as the straight man of a comedy team with Marty Allen, Rossi says he has always been too busy to pursue the New York stage.

“When Marty and I were hot we could have been on Broadway any time we wanted, but we didn’t take advantage of it,” he says. “For some reason our management never thought it was a good career move.”

Allen & Rossi, who were brought together by Nat King Cole in 1957, made more than 700 appearances on television (44 on “The Ed Sullivan Show”), made 16 comedy albums and appeared in the spy spoof film “The Last of the Secret Agents” before they split in 1969. They reunited briefly twice.

“We agreed to disagree,” Rossi says. “You know, when you’re married you can make up by going to bed with your wife. But it’s hard to go to bed with Marty, although we had to do it a couple of times — just kidding, Marty. It was only once.”

Rossi was discovered by Mae West in 1953.

He was a 20-year-old student playing the lead in “The Student Prince” at the Civic Light Opera Company in Los Angeles. West caught the performance and hired him for her show, which ended up at the Sahara in Las Vegas.

After graduating from Loyola University, he entered the Air Force. While stationed near San Francisco, he became friends with legendary radio announcer Don Sherwood and frequently appeared on his radio and television shows. Rossi, who never seems to slow down, says if the show catches on and he’s in New York for a while he will produce a burlesque show and probably perform some stand-up comedy.

“I don’t feel any older than I did 20 years ago,” he says. “A lot of women take me for like 50 and 55 — although last night a girl took me for a hundred.”

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