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This is it! Producers of Broadway’s It’s Only a Play have  been waiting with bated breath to see what “Manhattan Digest” has to say about playwright Terrance McNally’s revival of his 1982 comedy.  Ticket sales hinge upon this very review and so the words are chosen carefully to  ensure that the hard-working cast  remain  employed for the next few  months.

Surely, these words are written  in jest. Director Jack O’Brien’s star packed revival sent ticket sales soaring through the roof at the Schonefeld theater when it was announced that  Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick  (of The Producers fame) would reunite. It that weren’t enough to clinch the deal, producers wisely added other stage and screen celebs including Megan Mullally, Stockard Channing, and F. Murray Abraham. To attract a younger crowd, Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint and rising star, Micah Stock were tacked on  to the marquee.  The show has become the toast of Broadway and has already announced an extension to March 2015. Originally it was slated to run only through January 4th, 2015.

What is the point then,  of writing a review? With such a line-up, one might believe that  it would be immune to criticism, even  to  heavyweight critics whose printed  and digital opinions can often dictate the success or failure of a show. (Note: “Manhattan Digest” is not one of these publications!)  But, you know what they say about opinions?  If you don’t, ask someone for  the crass answer.  Without further fanfare, I shall share my humble opinion about  Broadway’s hottest ticket.

Photo courtesy of O&M.
Photo courtesy of O&M.

In short, It’s Only a Play is a fun night at the theater. Zippy lines are delivered  often enough to keep audiences laughing (or at the very least, smiling). Its’ shortcoming  lies in its’ length. For a play with little substance, the bit is drawn out a bit too long and once the curtain falls on this  two and half hour sitcom,  you’ll  feel as though you’ve exceeded your  time at the party.

Set in the home of producer Julia Budder (Mullally), “friends” and creative members of Peter Austin’s (Broderick) new play The Golden Egg  assemble  on the opening night of  his show for the cast party and, more importantly, for the reviews.  Dimwit Gus Head (Stock) serves as the coat check guy and more than  holds his own in his Broadway debut. Head is a self-proclaimed “actor-slash-singer-slash-dancer-slash-comedian-slash-performance-artist-slash-mime”.  Attend  nearly any cocktail gathering and  you’ve rubbed elbows with the type.  Austin’s best friend, James Wicker (Lane), is an egotistical television  star, who turned down the opportunity to star in his buddy’s play. Lane is doing his usual schtick here, but it works without fail. If there is any other leading man on Broadway working with such comic ferocity as him,  please let  me know. (Lane will depart the production on January 4th, as Martin Short assumes the role).   Channing is  Virgina Noyes, a washed up, pill popping diva whose problems with the law interfere with her stage work.  As always, the  skillfully talented Channing commands the stage, this time with a heavy dose of attitude and self-delusion.  Her character’s antics  could well be ripped from today’s entertainment headlines.  Abraham is  the most subtle  here as Ira Drew, a theatre critic  with an alter ego and bitter disposition. Polished and proper, Abraham’s Drew is wryly delightful as he  plays the straight man  with great panache. Frank Finger (Grint) is the boy genius director who is lauded  by critics, but plagued by his own insecurities. Grint makes a flamboyant and impressive Broadway debut among this predominantly seasoned troupe.

In less talented hands, McNally’s updated  romp would not be nearly as entertaining. While it is a work  that even outsiders can enjoy, those in theatre circles will find many of the zingers even more enjoyable. Broderick’s Austin may  well deliver one the best lines uttered on any stage at the moment: “New York  without theater would be Newark!” . While it won’t move mountains,  It’s Only a Play  is pure escapism which serves as both a valentine and  a gently self-deprecating mirror to the fabulous gift of live theater.

 

It’s Only a Play  on Broadway  now  through March 2015 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, West 45th street between Broadway and 8th Ave. For tickets and information, visit the box office or log onto: http://itsonlyaplay.com