Scott Rudin, Eli Bush
Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman
Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor, Sherie Rene Scott
and Robert Morse
Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s
The Front Page
(The Front Page Website)
Directed by Jack O’Brien
235 West 44th Street
Dylan Baker, Patricia Conolly, Halley Feiffer
Dann Florek, John Magaro, Danny Mastrogiorgio
Christopher McDonald, David Pittu, Joey Slotnick
Lewis J. Stadlen, Micah Stock, Clarke Thorell
Set Design: Douglas W. Schmidt
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Scott Lehrer
Hair & Makeup Design: Campbell Young & Luc Verschueren
Casting: Caparelliotis Casting
Production Stage Manager: Tripp Phillips
Press Representative: DKC/O&M
Executive Producers: Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
Production Manager: Aurora Productions
Company Manager: Christopher Taggart
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 8, 2016
All of my fondest expectations of this Broadway revival of The Front Page were met, and more, in Jack O’Brien’s new production at the Broadhurst. In 1928 Chicago, a policeman has been shot, the accused murderer is in a holding cell, waiting for a morning execution, and newspaper editors and writers are in the Press Room of the Criminal Courts Building or on the big red dial phone with an earpiece the size of a horn. Even though the top-billed star of this show, Nathan Lane, doesn’t appear until close to the end of the second of three acts, the audience is treated early on to the thrilling, high comedy of John Slattery as Hildy Johnson of the Herald-Examiner and Jefferson Mays as Benzinger of the Tribune. Additional newsmen in waiting are Lewis J. Stadlen as Endicott of the Post, David Pittu as Schwartz of the Daily News, Christopher McDonald as Murphy of the Journal, Joel Slotnick as Wilson of the American, Dylan Baker as McCue of the City News Bureau, and Clarke Thorell as Kruger of the Journal of Commerce.
The opening banter, barbs, and bubbly witticisms are outrageous and sometimes hilarious. Hildy, as it turns out, claims he’s out the door to New York, with a new Madison Avenue advertising position as well as a fiancée, Peggy Grant (Halley Feiffer), who comes with a ready-made sarcastic mother-in-law for Hildy, Mrs. Grant (a miscast Holland Taylor, see below). Hildy’s problem is that the police killer, Earl Williams (John Magaro), escaped and is armed. To the wind are tossed Peggy and Mrs. Grant, as Hildy smells typewriter ink and maybe a big new position if he and his Editor, Walter Burns (Nathan Lane), claim credit for capturing Williams, in a coup de grace for the Examiner. Along for the wild shenanigans is Sheriff Hartman (John Goodman), who gets suspicious in the midst of his over-the-top rants. When a messenger arrives at the press room, a shabby, short Mr. Pincus (Robert Morse), with a Governor’s certificate of delay of execution, Hartman and cohorts pretend they never received it, as every man is on his own in exploiting the crime and punishment for notoriety and status. Some of the side comments about politicians and the press drew generous laughter from this post-election audience, as they still ring true after 88 years.
Sherie Rene Scott is Mollie Malloy, the criminal’s red light district gal, Danny Mastrogiorgio is Diamond Louie, a thug, Dann Florek is a typical Chicago Mayor (aka boss), and Micah Stock is Woodenshoes Eichhorn, a German-accented policeman, rounding out the essential characters of a most expansive cast. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote an almost three-hour play, and the packed Broadhurst was in high energy, buzzing during both intermissions. Jefferson Mays’ Benzinger, a germaphobe who sprays disinfectant throughout his desk items and becomes frantic at a nearby cough or sneeze, was outstanding, as always. I have now reviewed Mr. Mays in at least four magnificent shows, either musicals or plays, and his performances are extraordinary and flawless. Mr. Lane, another pro who’s been frequently praised on these pages for years, almost literally ate the scenery. He is incomparable for vaudevillian hilarity and larger than life characterizations, an emotional fireball. Mr. Goodman drew out the Sheriff’s personality, imbued with local color and cartoonish posture, a quasi-Popeye. Mr. Slattery seemed a little too slick, but, after all, he was engaged and headed to Manhattan, so he outshone his colleagues in classy attire. His fiancée, played by Ms. Feiffer in a minimal role, was well cast, but Ms. Taylor, favorably reviewed on these pages for years, was too restrained and out of her element here. Were Nancy Opel, Mary Testa, and Andrea Martin all busy? Mr. Morse, as the Governor’s attaché, was hilarious in a very low-key, Burlesquean way. Ms. Scott made the most of her role as the lady of the night in a courthouse, looking for her guy with a gun.
Mr. O’Brien deserves kudos for managing such a heady and humungous cast. For most this would have been a treacherous assignment, but Mr. O’Brien pulled it off with aplomb. Douglas Schmidt’s press room left nothing to the imagination, as it was so finely drawn. The 1920’s industrial lights, wooden shades, and stained plaster walls, Benzinger’s private, roll-top, wooden desk, and the shiny red phone all transported us to the big city, gritty action. Ann Roth’s three-piece, buttoned suits with brimmed felt hats and pocket watches, as well as a strange cornered hat for Ms. Taylor, were eye-catching. Mr. Lane’s handlebar mustache was well suited to the 1928 milieu, thanks to Young and Verschueren, and sound and lighting designs were flawless. To enjoy this show, it’s best to focus on the gestalt, with serendipitous comedy and irony throughout.
John Goodman with Christopher McDonald, Dylan Baker, Clarke Thorell
in "The Front Page"
Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes
Nathan Lane in "The Front Page"
Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes
John Slattery and Nathan Lane in "The Front Page"
Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes