By William Wolf
HELLO, DOLLY! Send This Review to a Friend
Bette Midler is Bette Midler, but by golly she is also Dolly. In this new production of the venerable Jerry Herman musical the iconic star is a fan-pleaser as expected, but she also nails the character of charismatic, husband-hunting widow Dolly Gallagher Levi. There is a moment early in the show when Midler evokes a genuine note of sadness. But melancholy is not what this extravaganza is about.
Midler is an expert in comedy and timing, and although her voice doesn’t scale the heights, she milks every bit of inherent hilarity to the hilt whether singing or talking. Yes, she mugs a good deal playing to the adoring crowd, occasionally giving knowing glances to the audience in the midst of a scene. And when she struts along the runway in the show’s key numbers, it as if the musical were tailor made for her, and there is a guarantee than any audience will go wild with applause, as happens even when we first see her. Her performance is the main reason for paying scaled up ticket prices.
The weakest part of “Hello, Dolly!” has always been portions of the book that involve the exploits of Cornelius and Barnaby, employees of the marriage-targeted, penny-pinching Horace Vandergelder. Other obstacles are the lumpy, senseless arrest and courtroom scene. That’s heavy lifting for the book by Michael Stewart in the show based on Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker.” The problem is addressed under the direction of Jerry Zaks by going all-out to exaggerate the characters of Cornelius and Barnaby so that they are played primarily for laughs and etched skillfully in that ultra-comic approach by Gaven Creel (Cornelius) and Taylor Trensch (Barnaby), who are broadly amusing.
As for Vandergelder, as played by David Hyde Pierce, he is a mainstay of the production—very funny every bit of the way with his bluster and skillful reading of funny lines. One doesn’t find much chemistry between him and Midler. But that’s hardly the point. “Dolly!” is a bundle of entertainment and humor and honest sentiment and ultimate believability are not what this star vehicle seems meant to deliver. For example, the funny eating scene with Midler getting laughs from her incessant devouring starts in the restaurant setting but inexplicably winds up in the courtroom scene.
This staging offers the delight of Gower Champion’s original choreography as touched up by choreographer Warren Carlyle, with a breathtaking dancing waiter number as a highlight. The costumes by Santo Loquasto, who also designed the attractive sets, are strikingly appealing.
The performances by supporting characters are colorful. I especially enjoyed Kate Baldwin as hat shop owner Irene Molloy, and as always it is a thrill to hear Baldwin sing, as she does here with “Ribbons Down My Back,” and her acting is also sharp. Credit Beanie Feldstein with a broadly comic performance as Minnie Fay, who sets her eyes on Barnaby and gets laughs from intensive mugging.
Jerry Herman wrote some memorable numbers, such as “It Takes a Woman,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment.” But let’s face it: The powerhouse songs remain “Hello, Dolly!” and “Before the Parade Passes By,” and when Midler gets hold of them and struts along the runway, the effect is stupendous. At the Sam S. Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-123-6200. Reviewed April 27, 2017.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY Send This Review to a Friend
The musical version of the popular story based on Roald Dahl’s novel with a book by David Greig, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whittman and Shaiman, is what it should be as family entertainment. The show, also based on songs from the motion picture, is eye-popping with colorful scenic and costume design by Mark Thompson, and elaborate lighting design by Japhy Weidman. The spectacle alone should keep youngsters enthralled.
Yes, the show drags some in the second act and could use tightening, but the length is alleviated by such entertaining showpieces as the dancing little characters, tiny by virtue of performers cleverly using puppet fronts to get the needed effect. (Choreography is by Joshua Bergasse.) There is also the emotional buildup to Charlie achieving his dream. Fans of the film may have their own assessments, but on its own terms this show, smartly directed by Jack O’Brien, succeeds respectably.
The musical has two major elements going for it in addition to the spectacle. Christian Borle as Willy Wonka is a force unto himself. He emits sparkle and boundless energy, which provides the show with wrap-around charm. Borle comes across as a dynamic song and dance man who gives the production power.
Then there is Charlie. The role is played by three different young actors at alternating performances. At the performance I saw Ryan Foust was Charlie, and he was terrific. Child actors can be overly cute, but Foust is thoroughly winsome. He is extremely talented whether acting or singing, and he gives the show heart as well as fulfills the difficult task of co-carrying the show with Borle. (The others playing Charlie are Ryan Flynn and Ryan Sell—an abundance of Ryans.)
There is a large supporting cast and those with highlighted turns are especially amusing. There are too many to mention here, but they contribute an air of craziness to what at its root a very sentimental story. At the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 26, 2017.
OSLO (BROADWAY) Send This Review to a Friend
When I originally saw the J.T. Rogers play “Oslo” at the off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, I expressed sadness at how elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians still was all these years after the 1993 peace accord at the White House. “Oslo” brilliantly dramatizes the back story said to have led up to the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The two sides are regrettably now even further apart as “Oslo” has reopened at the Broadway-categorized Vivian Beaumont Theater. The excitement of the play is even greater played out on a larger stage, with mostly the same cast continuing to be energized by the subject matter and the colorfully drawn characterizations, as well as by the intense, sweeping direction by Bartlett Sher.
At the dramatic ending in which dreams for future peace are voiced vociferously, one’s hopes are stirred, but the tempered recognition of the reality makes peace seem even further away than it was when I reviewed the play last July.
What is there to say about the drama that’s new? I could strain to re-write, but I feel it best to quote mostly what I originally wrote as follows, with some deletions:
It is challenging to say the least to portray bigwigs gathered in conferences to thrash out thorny international problems and hold audience attention for three hours. The miracle of “Oslo”...is that the give-and-take efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement burst with excitement throughout and make an intellectual theme come vividly alive. “Oslo” is the weightiest play around at the moment but also the most dramatic.
What Rogers does, based on his research, is explore the back story of negotiations that ultimately led to the 1993 handshake in the Rose Garden of the White House between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Neither shows up in the play, but Rogers depicts the tense negotiations by their emissaries in Oslo, Norway between April, 1992 and September, 1993. The playwright has made it clear that although the characters and events are based on fact, the words they speak spring from his imagination.
The working out of the Oslo Accords is facilitated by Norwegian Terje Rød-Larsen, director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences, brilliantly played by versatile actor Jefferson Mays, and his wife, Mona Juul, an official in Norway’s Foreign Ministry, intriguingly portrayed with unyielding determination by Jennifer Ehle, who also has the task of stepping forward periodically to explain events to the audience.
Those meeting regard the facilitating couple as bystanders, which they essentially are. The heavyweights who argue vehemently and flash their individual personalities include Anthony Azizi as Ahmen Qurie, P.L.O. Finance Minister; Dariush Kashani as Hassan Asfour, Official P.L.O. Liason with the Palestinian Delegation at multilateral U.S.-sponsored talks; Daniel Oreskes as Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister; Adam Danniheisser as Yossi Beilin, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister; Michael Aronov as Uri Savir, Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Joseph Siravo as Joel Singer [At the new performance I saw the role still usually performed by Siravo was well-played by Jeff Still] as an influential Jewish Washington lawyer. All of the acting is first-rate.
Those cited above, and other cast members, move about frequently, which keeps the play lively....In addition there is the accomplishment of Michael Yeargan’s set design, a simple classic space in which furniture is slid swiftly in and out to provide variety to the scenes. At times there are also background projections to tie the negotiations to goings-on elsewhere. Production elements are unified with the overall effect of giving the drama impetus and importance.
After all the furor, the infighting, the battles over what to do about territory and Jerusalem, and the sense of triumph at having gotten any kind of an agreement at all, cast members step forward to tell what has happened since…The pleasure of having seen a top-notch drama gives way to sadness. But what we have witnessed still leaves hope that others may one day succeed in the spirit of what happened in Oslo. Now at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 22, 2017.
THE LITTLE FOXES Send This Review to a Friend
Lillian Hellman’s 1939 classic, “The Little Foxes,” maintains its vaunted sting in its latest Manhattan Theatre Club revival, thanks to the brilliance of the play itself, an outstanding cast and taut direction by Daniel Sullivan that captures the escalating portrait of family greed. Although set in 1900 in a small southern town, the machinations that come to a searing climax could just as well be taking place today.
A casting gimmick is a highlight of this production. Two extraordinary actresses, Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon, are alternating roles. Linney plays the conniving central figure Regina Giddens at some performances, with Nixon as the unhappy, alcoholic and pitiable Birdie Hubbard. On other occasions Nixon becomes Regina and Linney is Birdie.
At the performance I chose to see Linney was Regina and Nixon Birdie. Both acting turns were terrific. Linney embodies the nuances of a woman who long felt denied her dreams and resented subservience to her brothers who inherited from their father, leaving her out. We may feel for her some at the outset, but by the time events explode, we see her as a nasty piece of work who deserves the rejection she gets from her daughter and the lonely life projected for her despite her outsmarting her thieving brothers to financially dominate a new enterprise.
Nixon projects a dreamlike state for the abused Birdie, whose husband married her for family money and mistreats her. She drinks steadily as a crutch while still nursing dreams of what she hoped her life would be like. Hellman has given Birdie a mighty scene in which all of her pain rushes to the surface and Nixon makes us feel deeply for this lost soul.
Richard Thomas is outstanding as Horace Giddens, the fatally ill husband of Regina, who has long detested him. His return home from treatment for a heart condition leads to a sizzling, horrific scene that illustrates Regina’s ultimate callousness.
The rest of the cast is very polished, making the characters totally believable, and Scott Pask has designed an impressive, in-depth mansion set that is an appropriate arena for the family battling. Jane Greenwood’s costume design augments the period look.
Hellman was a very strong writer. “The Little Foxes” demonstrates her ability to carefully construct a play and create life-like characters, as well as address an issue, in this case showing what monetary greed can do to a family. In various incarnations the role of Regina has attracted such actresses as Tallulah Bankhead (she did the role on Broadway originally), Elizabeth Taylor, Anne Bancroft and Stockard Channing.
On the night I went, sitting at my right was a young woman who had never seen the play. She was duly impressed, and that underscores why this revival has the important function of introducing Hellman’s strength as a playwright to newcomers as well as offering a fresh view to those of us who have seen earlier productions. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Reviewed April 21, 2017.
INDECENT (BROADWAY) Send This Review to a Friend
When I saw “Indecent” off-Broadway (See Search for review), I had not yet seen the Sholem Asch’s Yiddish play “God of Vengeance,” about which Paula Vogel wrote ‘Indecent,” an exploration of the creation of “God of Vengeance” and the controversy that surrounded it. Subsequently, I saw a mounting of “God of Vengeance” in Yiddish (See Search for that review) and was fascinated by the drama that involved two lesbians kissing and a pious Jew running a whorehouse. It was performed in many European venues and off-Broadway, but when it reached Broadway in 1923, even though the controversial scene was edited, the cast was arrested, although the case was tossed on appeal. Now, seeing “Indecent” in its Broadway incarnation, I find Vogel’s riff having more impact in comparison as drama than the Yiddish play, when viewed today, does, even though that drama was so startling in its time.
Although it could use some serious trimming, Vogel’s play with music is excitingly staged under Rebecca Taichman’s direction—-she is credited as co-creator with Vogel—-and it makes the most of elements in “God of Vengeance” with dramatic illustrations, yet has an expansive take on the play by Asch, the obstacles he faced and his attempt to shed himself of the play’s burden as his reputation widened in the artistic world beyond his Yiddish roots in Europe.
On entering the theater one observes seven actors and three musicians seated at the rear of the stage. (Why they just can’t enter when the actual play begins annoys me, as their silent waiting through the audience seating process is useless.) In any event, once the production gets going all is redeemed by the excellent performances of the contingent, just as the same ensemble achieved off-Broadway.
Max Gordon Moore again plays young Asch in Warsaw when he stages a reading of his play to the horror of those who are outraged by lesbians, whores and use of the Torah as a gift to keep a daughter pure before she goes wayward. There is enough to offend everybody. However, a tailor named Lemml, again brilliantly portrayed by Richard Topol, is impressed and becomes the play’s stage manager, as well as narrator in the staging of “Indecent.”
The yet-to-come Holocaust hovers over the work as the cast members sprinkle ash from their sleeves, and in climactic scenes they are branded with yellow Jewish stars and walking in a line to doom. The kissing scenes between the women are staged in a downpour of rain, with Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk again in the roles. Verson also doubles as Asch’s wife who in the early scenes is enthusiastic about what he has written.
As you can gather, this is very much a group effort, with the ensemble also including Mimi Lieber, Tom Nelis and Steven Rattazzi, as well as the talented multi-instrument musicians, Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, who blend into the drama and action and overall atmosphere, which music and song help to create, along with the choreography by David Dorfman. Translations are flashed when Yiddish is spoken.
The situation cries out for a double biil, with “God fo Vengeance” staged in all its ahead-of-its-time emotional drama, and then followed by Vogel’s take on its creation. It would make for a grand if lengthy combination. A the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 19, 2017.
WAR PAINT Send This Review to a Friend
When a musical has as its two stars, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, there is bound to be entertainment. That’s true in “War Paint,” even though the book concept seems a stretch. While one enjoys the colorful performances by these two divas, there is the underlying feeling that an idea that looked good needed forcing to play out as a full-fledged show.
LuPone is sharp and outspoken as Helena Rubinstein, the Polish-Jewish make-up tycoon who built a business from scratch and whose disapproving expressions could sink a ship, and Ebersole is glamorous and equally ambitious as Canadian Elizabeth Arden, Rubinstein’s rival. There is no evidence that they ever met, but naturally, the musical must culminate in their encounter, which works dramatically in the hands of these show biz experts.
They each have dynamic solos, such as Ebersole’s revealing “Pink,” and they work well when singing as separated duos, especially in the meaningful number, “If I’d Been a Man” and later in the joint “Beauty in the World.” Each star is a show unto herself, and together they make an extra powerful attraction.
The book by Doug Wright works best when reaching for significance, as when the Rubinstein and Arden attempt to help the World War II effort, or when anti-Semitism leads to Rubinstein’s rejection when she wants an upscale apartment (“So I bought the building,” she says) and Arden faces a social rejection because she has earned her own money as a woman and not inherited it. There is also the inherent comment on the pressure on women to look beautiful by buying products thrust on them by savvy marketing, and we see a congressional investigation of what ingredients go into the products.
But it is tough to stretch out a whole musical about cosmetic achievements, although the set-up does provide for colorful numbers with attractive singers and dancers (choreography by Christopher Gattelli) and dazzling women’s outfits (designed by Catherine Zuber.) The music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie work best when sung by the stars, and director Michael Greif has worked hard to keep up a pace in a show that seems over-extended.
John Dossett as Tommy Lewis and Douglas Sills as Harry Fleming, the betraying men in the story, are excellent, as are others in the supporting cast. I especially enjoyed Erik Liberman as the super-aggressive Charlie Revson, who pushes his own brand and sings in “Fire and Ice,” one of the show’s more dynamic numbers.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that watching LuPone and Ebersole is the main reason for seeing ‘War Paint,” and the stars who reign do not disappoint, even in a show with a strained book and less than glorious music. At the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 13, 2017.
PRESENT LAUGHTER (2017) Send This Review to a Friend
I have long admired the acting talent of Kevin Kline, whether on stage or screen, and it is a great pleasure to report that he is bringing it all together for a fabulously entertaining performance in a revival of Noël Coward’s astute comedy “Present Laughter.” It is as if Kline were born to play the complex part of vain actor Garry Essendine, a satirical portrait that was Coward’s vehicle for spoofing himself and a character he played when “Present Laughter” burst upon the London theater scene in 1942.
Kline is consistently a delight to watch, whether deftly engaging in physical comedy, egotistically posturing with dramatic flourishes of excess, fighting off unwelcome intrusions in his life, engaging in sexual escapades, succumbing to flattery or finally giving in to the possibility of a genuine reunion with his not-so-estranged wife.
Through it all Kline is a master of comic and dramatic sophistication that exactly fits the tone of Coward’s best writing. That tone is achieved—with one exception—by the direction of Moritz von Stuelpnagel and the contributions of other starring cast members.
Give due credit to David Zinn, whose set design immediately grabs us when we see the London apartment in which Garry reigns. Costume designer Susan Hilferty has also contributed importantly to the play’s elegance. The white dressing gown alone that Garry receives as a gift and promptly wears affords a visual coup, apart from what she has smartly designed for the women in his life.
Kate Burton is outstanding as Garry’s tough-edged, still-friendly but estranged wife Liz, who knows him like a book and stands guard over his life and other relationships. Burton provides laughs with some of Coward’s acerbic lines and revelations. Kristine Nielsen makes the most of her colorful role as Garry’s long time secretary and assistant Monica, who has to contend with Garry’s romantic surprises as well as managing his schedule.
Tedra Millan is effervescently perfect as the young, persistently adoring Daphne, who spends the night as the object of Garry’s impulsive charm, but who finds herself rejected in high style in the morning. Cobie Smulders as Joanna is chic and super-persistent in confessing her love for Garry against the background of her marriage and an extra-marital affair.
Confessions and exposure abound, ensnaring two key men, Henry and Morris, perfectly played respectively by Peter Francis James and Reg Rogers. Ellen Harvey has scene-stealing moments as the cigarette-smoking Swedish housekeeper, Miss Erikson, and Matt Bittner crisply plays Fred, the butler, who smoothly goes about his duties amid the household mayhem.
There is one problematical character in the play that I wish Coward had dropped from the mix. He is that of Roland Maule, in this instance played with obnoxious intensity by Bhavesh Patel. Roland is a would-be playwright and an interloper, professing impulsive fandom for Garry--an annoying invader whom Garry keeps trying to shunt aside. Maule has an excessively vigorous handshake, which becomes a silly running gag.
I can’t see any purpose in the character, who only adds insignificantly to the onslaught against Garry’s privacy and equilibrium. Coward would have been well advised to cut the character, as when played for slapstick, as it is here and has been in the past, the bit runs totally counter to the otherwise comic sophistication of the play. Enough said.
But that caveat is a blip on what emerges as a wonderfully entertaining production, with impeccable casting and resulting fine acting, led, of course, by the triumph of Kevin Kline, who merits nominations and awards and lights up what emerges as one of the most enjoyable plays, revival or original, of the season. At the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 9, 2017.
AMÉLIE Send This Review to a Friend
The main reason for seeing “Amélie,” the new musical, is Phillipa Soo, now in the title role on the heels of her success in “Hamilton.” As Amélie, a waitress in a Paris café who tries to help the lives of others and in the process finds romance for herself, Soo shows that she has a good voice, is engaging and able to energize a production. The show itself, with a book by Craig Lucas, music by Daniel Messé and Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Messé, is pleasant but rambling without igniting the excitement needed to lift a musical to Broadway heights.
Amiable is the strongest word to describe “Amélie,” which younger audiences may enjoy as a result of the romantic elusiveness—eventually resolved—between Soo as Amélie and Adam Chanler-Berat as Nino, who also has charm and sings effectively. But getting to their ultimate embracing seems to take forever.
In reading my review of the successful French film on which the musical, which starred then 23-year-old Audrey Tautou, is based, I noted having described the movie as “frothy, kooky and funny, quickly paced and packed with….Parisian atmosphere.” This is not a description that can fit “Amélie,” the musical.
There are fleeting suggestions of Paris in the set design (by David Zinn) of the café, but the overall look is a hodgepodge of background buildings that lack a sense of locale. Nor is there much of a French suggestion in the score. This musical, directed by Pam MacKinnon with musical staging and choreography by Sam Pinkleton, could just as well be set in New York.
In the beginning we see Savvy Crawford acquitting herself well as the young Amélie, but the book labors repeated returns to Amélie the kid and her mother in the memory of the grown Amélie, a gambit that slows the show.
The supporting cast is solid, with some good vocal turns sprinkled throughout, and some may appreciate the musical for its good-natured ambiance. However, seeing Soo as a new and pleasing star is the production’s main attraction. At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 12, 2017.
THE GLASS MENAGERIE (2017) Send This Review to a Friend
Since the founding of this website I have reviewed three previous productions of “The Glass Menagerie” (see Search), each assessed with mix results. The latest staging, directed by Sam Gold, has its own particular problems.
The first difficulty one notes is that the play by Tennessee Williams is being mounted on a huge, almost bare stage, with bright lighting and little more than a dining table visible. That concept immediately runs blatantly counter to the intimacy of a play. Joe Mantello as the son Tom Wingfield greets us awkwardly to introduce the memory play as something he will conjure. The situation seems forced.
One key scene as written by Williams brings Finn Wittrock as Jim, the Gentleman Caller, together with the shy, withdrawn Laura in an alternately sensitive and upsetting break-through conversation. What does director Gold do? He stages the scene with very dim candlelight (the lights have gone out in the Wingfield home). But a way needs to be found to brighten the faces. Even in Row D, I could not make out facial expressions so key to observing what develops between Jim and Laura.
The role of Laura’s mother, Amanda, is basic to the play, and there is a poetic sadness in the writing, as Amanda flutters about while reflecting on what might have been in her life. But Sally Fields as Amanda is mostly strident, often angry, and not only does this eliminate the beauty of Williams’s dialogue, but it leaves no room for the crushing build-up toward the end when she finds that Jim is engaged and rips into Tom for not knowing this and taking it into account before brining Jim home to dine with Amanda and Laura, with Amanda desperately hoping that Jim will be a suitor.
The most interesting aspect of this version is the casting of Madison Ferris as Laura, as she is suffering in real life from muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. Watching her strategically maneuver in and out of the chair with determination is a revelation. It is a admirable to undertake such reality casting, and Ferris is effective in the role.
However, this gives the play a tilt beyond what Williams wrote. His Laura has a slightly game leg. Here there is an escalated problem in finding a husband for the more severely stricken Laura. On the other hand, that can make the play even more poignant, especially as Ferris projects independence in standing up to her mother and suggesting a hidden strength and lively personality beneath her shyness. Both Ferris and Whitrock are to be commended for making their characters very human, even though viewed in dim light that makes us depend mainly on listening to their dialogue.
But overall Gold has given us more of an in-your-face production in which one has to search for snatches of William’s poetry. His writing is what makes the play so sensitive. In this case the desire to stage it differently undercuts rather than enhances the drama which when well-done shimmers with sensitivity.
Still, for those who have never seen “The Glass Menagerie,” this is a chance to experience it, no matter how flawed the staging. At the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 7, 2016.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Send This Review to a Friend
Those who get belly laughs out of farce and slapstick comedy will find plenty to guffaw over in the uproariously funny “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a Broadway gift from the Mischief Theatre in Britain and writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, all three of whom also star in the show.
Of course, there are always those who don’t appreciate this sort of humor. Pity them. Fortunately, I am not in that category, so I was uninhibitedly laughing aloud through much of the mayhem created on stage by this superb gang of actors who show themselves to be expert in physical comedy as well as dialogue meant to go with raised eyebrows.
The set-up is a group of inept university drama society players attempting to stage a mystery titled “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” The only mystery is what will go wrong next. Bravo to scenic designer Nigel Hook, who has created a booby-trapped set that becomes a major player creating an obstacle course for the gallant cast members.
As the show gets underway, we see game actors trying to put bits and pieces of the set together as they keep falling off. One member of the audience is recruited to assist, and on the night I saw the show, he was helplessly left trying to hold a plank in place while others went about their business. The audience was soon welcomed and cued in by an arch commentator, Henry Shields as Chris Bean, the inspector and director of the play within a play, who lets us know, for example, that the company’s budget problems led to the earlier production of “Two Sisters.”
It is useless to try to describe the plot and all of what ensues. Suffice it to say that excellent women performers, Charlie Russell and Bryony Corrigan, are uproariously funny as they get knocked unconscious or battle each other for the limelight. Their physical comedy is of the highest order, worthy of the best traditions of slapstick.
Ditto for the male cast members, who are trapped in an endless and bizarre state of affairs, whether trying to keep from sliding down a platform gone awry or one trying to play dead (Greg Tannahill) while those about sit on him or a stretcher dumps him on the floor.
Under the direction of Mark Bell, the mayhem persists with ingenious complications at virtually every turn. Memories of Monty Python may strike some audience members, who may also see comparisons between Shields and John Cleese. However, there isn’t much time to think about what one is seeing. The comedy comes at us swiftly, complete with surprises.
I could bestow an ensemble award for the lot, so smoothly do they mesh into the overall hysteria. “The Play That Goes Wrong” is in a way reminiscent of “Noises Off,” but there is more character development in that farce. Here the performers are just plain funny. I could easily see “The Play That Goes Wrong Again” in order to focus more on the individual triumphs. At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 7, 2017.