Thursday, November 3, 2016

Broadway Review: The Front Page

Nathan Lane and John-Goodman. Photo: Julieta-Cervantes
The Front Page
By Ben Hect and Charles MacArthur
Directed by Jack O’Brien
The Broadhurst Theatre

Waiting for Nathan Lane...
By Lauren Yarger
Twice  Jefferson Mays makes an entrance during Broadway's The Front Page to applause and comments from audience members saying, "That's him!" Eventually, they realize, that's no, even though he kind of looks like a slimmer, bespectacled version of Lane, Mays is someone else and Lane still hasn't made an appearance on stage.

It's a shame the applause isn't genuine, because the talented Mays (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder; I Am My Own Wife), as Bensinger, a germophobe newspaper reporter,  is one of the highlights of this revival of a play where women -- and just about anyone who isn't a white male -- gets called by some derogatory slur. OK, that's how things were in 1928 when the play is set (and it is a wistful pleasure to see the wooden trimmed Criminal Courts Building press room with its old upright typewriters, two-piece standing phones and old wooden desks designed by Douglas W. Schmidt), but unfortunately, male-heavy plays where women don't get big parts are still way too common on Broadway, so forgive me if I balk at seeing pin-up girls on the bathroom door and hearing women spoken of rudely, not to mention a Playbill listing 22 male characters and four females, one of whom is a maid (Patricia Connolly) who doesn't figure in the plot....

A better choice might have been a 2016 staging of His Girl Friday, another stage adaptation by John Guare that combines elements from the film of the same name starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and this play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (which was made into a film in 1931). Th Guare version casts Herald- Examiner reporter Hildy Johnson (the part played here -- very well -- by John Slattery) as a female and might have been a better vehicle for the talented Sherry Rene Scott, who seems miscast here as Mollie Malloy, a woman who insists the guy Chicago is about to hang for murder is innocent.

All of the reporters are gathered to cover that execution story and Hildy can't resist the printer's ink in his veins to chase the story when the prisoner escapes, even though he has promised to quit his newspaper job to join fiance Peggy Grant (Halley Feiffer) and her mother (Holland Taylor) in New York and a new career as an advertising man. Taylor's talent is horribly underused here, but she manages to get laughs with the few lines she has, including a knowing chuckle from the New York audience when she complains about a $2 taxi fare.

Examiner Managing Editor Walter Burns (Nathan Lane) wants his best reporter on the story and when Hildy stumbles on the escaped prisoner, Earl Wiliams (John Magaro), they try to get the scoop without tipping off Besninger of the Tribune and the other reporters: McCue, City News Bureau (Dylan Baker, who stands out), Murphy, the Journal (Christopher McDonald), Schwartz, the Daily News (a solid David Pittu) Wilson, the American (Joey Slotnick) Endicott, the Post (Lewis J. Stadlen) and Kruger, Journal of Commerce (Clarke Thorell). 

The whole news room seems oblivious to corruption taking place around the case bungled by Sheriff Hartman (John Goodman from TV's "Roseanne") and the Mayor (Dann Florek TV's "Law and Order" franchise), who try to payoff Mr. Pincus (Robert Morse) to keep quiet when he arrives with a stay of execution frm the governor. And no one will listen to cop Woodenshoes Eichhorn (Micah Stock, who is doing some kind of unintelligible German accent which interferes with the timing of comedic lines, but who still managed to please the crowd). 

Slattery ("Mad Men") lights up the stage and is charismatic as the hard-working reporter. Mays is quite funny as the poetry-writing reporter who has a germ fumigator -- and a few other questionable things -- in his desk. When Lane finally does make his appearance, he commands all attention and has the audience laughing at his rude, manipulative character. He makes me laugh every time he is on stage.

The play, with three acts and two intermissions, is just too cumbersome for Jack O'Brien to rein in. Most of the first act could be cut without much effect except to shorten the two-hour-45-minute run time.

The Front Page features costume design by Ann Roth, lighting design by Brian MacDevitt, and sound design by Scott Lehrer. It runs at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 West 44th St., NYC). Performances are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $67 - $167: thefrontpagebroadway.com; 212-239-6200.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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