|Nathan Lane and John-Goodman. Photo: Julieta-Cervantes|
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.
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.