Annaleigh Ashford, starring in the revival of A.R. Gurney’s comedy, Sylvia, once again demonstrates why she is the reigning comedienne on Broadway. She plays the title character, a stray dog that is not bashful in speaking her mind. Ashford was in the original cast of Kinky Boots and her signature song, “The History of Wrong Guys,” is one of the funniest in recent memory. As Essie Carmichael, a woefully inept dancer in last season’s You Can’t Take it With You, she was absolutely hysterical and was honored with a Tony Award for her performance. In Sylvia, from the moment the actress enters the stage, the audience was in stitches. She has the mannerisms of a canine down pat. Ashford is engaging, frisky and fearless in her physicality. For anyone that currently owns a dog, has so in the past or even knows such a person then Sylvia will be a welcoming diversion. Cat owners and other pet lovers will also thoroughly savor Gurney’s genial romp.
The plot is simple. Gary (Matthew Broderick), a mild-mannered businessman, comes upon Sylvia in Central Park. Enchanted, he brings her home to his displeased wife Kate (Julie White). The couple has recently moved to Manhattan as empty nesters without any obligations. Now, much to her dismay, but to her husband’s unending pleasure, there is another household member to be concerned with and put a crimp in their freedom. The show examines how the adorable pooch fits in with the twosome and the trouble she causes for the couple’s marriage.
A.R. Gurney has penned a delightful tale that can be very funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously. His characters are well-defined, uncomplicated, and likeable. Many older theatergoers can easily identify with the characters. You could read more into the play such as it being a meditation on midlife relationships, but Sylvia is more a show to sit back and enjoy.
The four-person cast is first-rate. In addition to the superb Annaleigh Ashford, there is Matthew Broderick, who could use some pep-me-up pills, but is affable and endearing as Gary, a man who begins to reevaluate his life after hooking up with his new pet. Julie White is a showcase for the slow burn. She shows real annoyance, disapproval, exasperation, and frustration as Kate. Robert Sella, playing multiple roles, is flippant, sassy, irreverent, and puckish. His interactions with the other players vibrantly enliven each scene.
Director Daniel Sullivan brings a creative and inventive flair to the production. He skillfully guides the actors through the lighter, playful junctures of the show as well as the over-the-top moments. This usually involves either Annaleigh Ashford in one of her more inspired moments or one of Robert Sella’s slightly off-center characters.
Sylvia, a breezy entertainment, now at the Cort Theatre on Broadway.