Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Front Page *** B-

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s much revived and adapted 1928 comedy is back on Broadway in a lavish, star-studded production led by Nathan Lane as editor Walter Burns and John Slattery as reporter Hildy Johnson. A slimmed-down John Goodman plays Sheriff Hartman, Jefferson Mays is the hypochondriac reporter Bensinger, Holland Taylor is Mrs. Grant, Hildy’s intended mother-in-law, Sherie Renee Scott is Mollie Malloy, the doxy with a heart of gold, and Robert Morse is Mr. Pincus, the befuddled messenger. And those are just the actors listed above the title! When minor roles are filled by the likes of Dylan Baker, Patricia Connolly, David Pittu and Lewis J. Stadlen, the casting can only be called profligate. The action takes place in the press room of the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago, which overlooks the gallows where an alleged Communist who killed a black policeman is scheduled to be hanged in several hours. The repartee among the reporters fills most of the first act, which takes a long time to build up steam. Things get livelier in the second act after the doomed man escapes. There is snappy dialogue and madcap physical comedy. The play really comes to life when Nathan Lane finally makes his entrance late in Act II. A touch of tragedy struck a discordant note. The third act ties up loose ends nicely. The actors are in top form, most of all Mays and Morse. I was slightly disappointed with John Slattery, an actor I have long admired but who seemed a bit old and a bit off as Hildy. In some ways, the material seemed dated: the print media no longer command the attention they did in 1928 and are no longer the exclusive province of men. Other things seemed all too timely: there are still trigger-happy cops, civic corruption and cynical courting of the black vote. The set design by Douglas W. Schmidt is excellent and the costumes by Ann Roth are spot-on. Jack O’Brien’s direction is fluid, but he has not yet found a way to enliven the first act. It was an enjoyable, if not memorable, opportunity to return to the era when plays could have three acts and more than two dozen roles. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including two intermissions.

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