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.
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