That six-foot-three-and-a-half-inch white rabbit from the 1944 comedy Harvey still has a lot to say some 70 years later. Not literally, because of course we never see or hear from the title character of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, but spend a couple of hours in the company of Jim Parsons’s Elwood P. Dowd, who claims Harvey is his best friend, and you won’t doubt his existence.
Parsons, the two-time-Emmy-winning star of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, made a notable Broadway debut last year in The Normal Heart, and now shows he has the chops and star power not only to be a Broadway headliner but to make a role made famous on film by James Stewart very much his own. In fact, director Scott Ellis and his accomplished cast apply such a gentle, steady touch to this Roundabout Theatre Company revival that a play that could seem mawkish and clichéd in lesser hands becomes a delightful old-school charmer.
Harvey comes most fully alive when Parsons is onstage. As those surrounding Elwood, including his sister Veta (a wonderfully distraught Jessica Hecht) and sanatorium chief Dr. Chumley (perpetually bewildered Charles Kimbrough), plot to get Elwood to deny Harvey’s existence, he saunters merrily through life, never far from Harvey or an alcoholic beverage, all calm reassurance in a world of disappointments.
Although Parsons plays this manchild as pure of heart, his Elwood is no airhead. “I wrestled with reality for 40 years, and I am happy to state that I finally won out over it,” he states at one point. And the bits of stage business Parsons engages in with the portrait of Elwood's late mother and Miss Kelly (Holley Fain), a comely young nurse, are as touching as any point of wisdom Elwood imparts.
Some of those sentiments, such as when Elwood describes preferring pleasantness over smarts, were greeted with applause from the audience. Harvey may not be heady intellectual fare, but its homespun joys make for a gratifying trip down the rabbit hole.
BY DIANE SNYDER
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Jim Parsons, Peter Benson, Larry Bryggman, Tracee Chimo, Holley Fain, Jessica Hecht, Carol Kane, Charles Kimbrough, Angela Paton, Rich Sommer, Morgan Spector
W. 54 St. (B'way & 8th)
New York, NY 10040
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