Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review of "The Front Page"

The all-star production of The Front Page is a fun and entertaining show.  Every actor—from John Goodman to Sherie Renee Scott to John Slattery—is first-rate and has their role down pat in this well-oiled, comedic machine.  But the play doesn’t soar until the appearance of Nathan Lane towards the end of Act II of the three-act show.  His timing, facial expressions, manic gestures, and vocal inflections are pure delectation.  The actor’s performance elevates the rest of his cast members making The Front Page, towards the end, an irresistible laughfest. 

Playwrights Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, both former Chicago newspapermen, have created a love letter to the rough and tumble world of tabloid journalism practiced in the early part of the 20th Century.  The two have written a seamless piece where scenes literally burst upon one another with biting quips and wise-cracking banter coming fast and furious.  The players—reporters, politicians, police, and other colorful characters--are lovable louts, hapless losers, and self-important incompetents.  Bureaucrats and elected officials can’t be trusted and are blunderingly corrupt.  Cynical?  Yes.  But Hecht and MacArthur have the personal knowledge and writing background to infuse all the show’s disparate components into an enjoyable confectionary mix.
John Goodman and members of the cast from "The Front Page."
The plot they developed centers around Hildy Johnson (John Slattery), a brash, veteran reporter for the Examiner.  He’s just told his boss, Walter Burns (Nathan Lane), he’s leaving the business to get married and take a regular job in a New York advertising firm.  While saying goodbye to his colleagues at the jail house press room Earl Williams (John Magaro), a condemned man, escapes in their very building, setting off a massive manhunt and scattering of all the hardened scribes, except Hildy.  Just as he is about to leave the premises Williams smashes through one of the room’s windows, injured and dazed.  This scenario sets into motion a raucous and crazed series of events that involves the oafish sheriff (John Goodman), clownish mayor (Dan Florek), Joe’s would-be girlfriend (Sherie Rene Scott), assorted newspaper men such as the prim and proper Bensinger (Jefferson Mays) and a host of other broadly drawn characters.
John Slattery and Nathan Lane from "The Front Page."
The cast is led by the illustrious Nathan Lane as the cantankerous, loud-mouthed editor, Walter Burns.  The man can do no wrong on a Broadway stage.  Enough said.  Other notables in the exceptional cast include John Slattery, who is suitably dapper as the carousing, and pugnacious star reporter, Hildy Johnson. John Goodman is marvelous as the befuddled, bungling Sheriff Hartman; Dan Florek is marvelous as the bumbling mayor; Jefferson May gives the scribe Bensinger a fastidious pomposity; Sherie Rene Scott, is splendid as the downtrodden, misunderstood Mollie Malloy; and Holland Taylor is wonderfully flummoxed as the mother-in-law to be, Mrs. Grant.

Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and cast members from "The Front Page."

Director Jack O’Brien has effectively been able to take this notable group of actors and actresses and adroitly meld their considerable flair and savvy into a flawlessly rendered production.  He has every scene humming and judiciously mapped out with skillful movements and fast-paced repartee.  The interactions are sometimes too mannered and slick, but the overall composition is a harmonious success.

The Front Page, an admirable production, with a talented cast anchored by the virtuoso performance of the incomparable Nathan Lane.

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