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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "To Be Or Not To Be" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "To Be Or Not To Be" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

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Manhattan Theatre Club
To Be Or Not To Be
(MTC Show Website)
By Nick Whitby
(Based on the 1942 Motion Picture)

Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer
In special arrangement with:
Bob Boyett, Roger Berlind, Neal Street Productions

Directed by Casey Nicholaw

At the
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street

With: Peter Benson, Robert Dorfman, Steve Kazee
Peter Maloney, Jan Maxwell, Michael McCarty
Kristine Nielsen, Brandon Perler, David Rasche
Rocco Sisto, Jimmy Smagula, Marina Squerciati

Scenic Design: Anna Louizos
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Projection Design: Wendall and Zak
Hair Design: Josh Marquette
General Manager: Florie Seery
Production Stage Manager: Charles Means
Casting: David Caparelliotis
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Mandy Greenfield
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Jill Turner Lloyd
Production Manager: Kurt Gardner
Director of Casting: Nancy Piccione

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 18, 2008

The 2008 Broadway re-make of the 1942 motion picture, To Be Or Not To Be, is one of those plays I wish had been shorter, with no intermission, and fewer Nazi jokes. In a season, in which Tovah Feldshuh deeply moves the audience in Irena’s Vow, it seemed so oblivious to mount this comedy romp, that begins with an actor in a Nazi Polish theater troupe saluting, “Heil Myself!” Ernst Lubitsch directed the iconic film, written by Melchior Lengyel and Edwin Justus Mayer, set in 1939 Nazi Poland, with Carole Lombard co-starring with Jack Benny. As this production’s plot goes, based on the film, the husband-wife theatrical duo, with the help of their troupe, out-wit a Nazi spy, Silewski, as well as Colonel Erhard. Jan Maxwell co-stars with David Rasche as the husband-wife duo, Maria and Josef Tura, assisted in their crime caper by their Director, Dowasz (Peter Maloney).

The Nazis have ordered the troupe’s campy show about Hitler to be closed, but the actors save their sets and costumes. Hamlet is soon produced, and Josef appears in a big wig and boots, in a fey recitation of the “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy. Meanwhile, Maria, Josef’s wife, a famous Polish actress, receives daily flowers from a fan and finally agrees to meet the young pilot, Sobinsky (Steve Kazee). Maria feigns surprise at his entrance to her dressing room, which had been timed for Josef’s soliloquy. Josef notices a front row viewer leave the theatre with flowers, day after day, just as his speech begins. When Maria accepts Sobinsky’s invitation to go flying in his plane, vaudevillian jokes abound, relating to the plane’s rapid dropping of explosives.

Faux and real film sequences appear on the stage curtains, from time to time, over the folds of material, in a strange mélange of images of World War II, mixed with a phallic plane and bawdy jokes. The plot thickens, with the troupe huddled around a bare stove, eating scraps. More plot surrounds a Nazi spy (Rocco Sisto) and the Colonel (Michael McCarty), who think the troupe’s Nazi headquarter stage set is actually a real office. One actor makes the sound of a typewriter behind the treacherous guest. Another says “Don’t touch the blinds!”, and of course they do, and scenery falls. There are gun shots, a theme about end-running an officer, who has the addresses of pilots' families, large luggage whisked out of the Colonel’s neat office, and so on. And, all the while, Jan Maxwell slinks about in silky sensuality, mesmerized by her tryst with Sobinsky.

To Be Or Not To Be could be cut and re-produced for a smaller, Off-Broadway stage, with a simplified playbook and fewer characters. Nick Whitby could cut some of the Nazi material, and go more with the vaudevillian genre. The audience would hear the double-entendres, and the campy scenes would be engaging. Among the cast, Jan Maxwell, David Rasche, Michael McCarty, Robert Dorfman, and Steve Kazee were most memorable. Costumes, lighting, sound, scenery, and projections were all appropriate and authentic to the period and plot. But, in a more intimate setting with a reduced script, they could have been better showcased. Nick Whitby has a good idea, and Casey Nicholaw directed with wit and taut timing. I look forward to future productions from Manhattan Theatre Club.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at