Let’s start off with the biggest question, how were all those stars in The Front Page? The answer is they were great. John Goodman had some laryngitis when I saw it, but otherwise he and the rest of the cast were fantastic. John Slattery is charming, stylish and comedic. Nathan Lane is wonderful, despite not appearing until well into the play. Holland Taylor, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays and Robert Morse are as funny and as good as you expect them to be. Sheri Rene Scott gives a wonderful turn as Mollie Malloy.
So then, why does The Front Page never feel like a great show? First, it is entirely too long. The news hounds are made up of a stable of excellent actors that would headline most other shows, but giving nearly the whole first act to them is not the best use of time. Second, The Front Page is dated, very dated. I suppose you could update it, but that wouldn’t work well in today’s vernacular since the newspaper business isn’t much of a business at all anymore. So be prepared for tasteless jokes about women, effeminate men and colored people.
And yet, on some level, both of these problems feel like choices, since the definitive The Front Page movie (titled His Girl Friday), with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell resolved these issues with judicious pruning of the story.
Other than that, how was the theater, Mrs. Lincoln? Pretty good actually. The set (by Douglas W. Schmidt) is fantastic, giving a large stage a slightly claustrophobic attitude. Filling it in Act One are an impressive array of newsmen acting bored and annoyed as they await news on the imminent hanging of Earl Williams – who’s being railroaded into execution to help reelect the crooked Mayor and Sheriff (Dann Florek and John Goodman). Jefferson Mays is the mincing, neurotic germaphobe (and general gay butt of jokes) who has his own desk, phone and is perpetually put out. He does a fine job with a thankless role. Late entering into the Act are John Slattery as Hildy Johnson, a newsman who is retiring to marry the girl of his dreams and move to New York, Holland Taylor as the annoying mother-in-law to be and Sheri Rene Scott as the Irish hooker with a heart of gold, who berates the news hounds for their lewd comments on her friendship.
In Act Two, Earl Williams escapes, Hildy catches him and hides him in the desk as the other newsmen look for Earl. Plus there is a lot of yelling and running around business.
In Act Three Nathan Lane shows up as Hildy’s boss, Walter Burns, to help Hildy sneak Earl out of the newsroom. The show finally comes to life when Nathan Lane and John Slattery are on stage together. Theirs is a reluctant, but enduring bro-mance, which neither dames nor mother-in-laws nor better jobs will break up. But two full acts makes for a long time to wait for the show to hit its stride.
Jack O’Brian does a fine job of directing The Front Page. He gets excellent performances out of all the players, but at nearly 3 hours, it is a bit of a slog. He might have been kinder to the audience to take a judicious knife to the show.
The Front Page | Playwrights: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur | Director: Jack O’Brian | Cast: Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Holland Taylor, Sheri Rene Scott, Robert Morse
Monday, October 31, 2016
Review of The Front Page
My automated posting didn't work, so I updated it today.