|THE FRONT PAGE|
There are a lot of crimes mentioned during the nearly three hours of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 comedy “The Front Page” – murder, kidnapping, graft – but it’s the one never named that will remain in most audience members’ mind after they leave the Broadhurst Theatre. It’s larceny, grand larceny in fact, and it’s being perpetrated by none other than Nathan Lane as the fast-talking, fire-breathing, stone-hearted Walter Burns, editor of the fictional Chicago Examiner.
Mind you, Lane isn’t doing much here that he hasn’t done before – bellowing, eye rolling, pausing perfectly before delivering a punchline (and making it sound like an ad lib) – but his unparalleled comic expertise finally ignites (after close to two hours) Jack O’ Brien’s star-studded if heretofore mildly memorable production. If the show’s third and final act seems to go by in an instant, thanks mostly to Lane, the first act, which admittedly paints an accurate portrait of the newspaper world, often feels leaden even in the expert hands of actors such as Dylan Baker, Christopher McDonald, David Pittu, and Jefferson Mays (who gets some big, if expected, laughs out of his germaphobic character, Roy Bensinger).
To his credit O’Brien gets a lot of things right, starting with Douglas W. Schmidt’s magnificent re-creation of the Press Room in Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building, and Ann Roth’s spot-on period costumes. And O’Brien’s casting instincts prove just as wily as usual – even when he chooses actors who you might not have imagined in a role. That’s undeniably true of the patrician-looking John Slattery, seemingly wrong but ultimately very right as Walter’s star reporter Hildy Johnson, who ends up having a much harder time leaving his hard-drinking, profanity-laced, ink-stained life behind -- for marriage to nice girl Peggy (a very good Halley Feiffer) and an advertising career in New York -- than he planned. Nor would have I pictured Slattery’s “Mad Men” co-star, the legendary Robert Morse, even accepting the almost cameo-like part of Mr. Pincus, but it’s a delight to have him on stage even for ten minutes.
It feels almost unfair to single other actors out for praise, but I will: Sherie Rene Scott gives unexpected depth to local “tart” Molly Molloy, a surprisingly goofy John Goodman allows himself to be laughed at as dumber-than-dirt sheriff Peter Hartman, Dann Florek is deliciously grandiose as the Mayor, and Micah Stock goes all-out in as the eccentric policeman Eichorn, who preaches dime-store psychology and speaks in a German accent that belongs in a production of “The Producers.”
Still, try as they might, this group of talented thespians can’t make the show’s convoluted (and often uncomfortably politically incorrect) plot about a murderer named Earl Williams (John Magaro), who is about to hanged, feel all that consequential. (It’s a comedy – do we really think it’s going to end in death?) Moreover, the talk of the importance of getting out the African-American vote or being afraid of Bolsheviks should feel like it’s been ripped from today’s front page headlines. Instead, it comes off as something that should be buried on B12.
Nathan Lane, however, not only deserves first billing (and last bow), but all the boldface type in the world!
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Sherie Rene Scott, Holland Taylor, Robert Morse, Dylan Baker, Patricia Conolly, Halley Feiffer, Dann Florek, John Magaro, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Christopher McDonald, David Pittu, Joey Slotnick, Lewis J. Stadlen, Micah Stock, Clarke Thorell
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 9/20/2016
235 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036