Monday, April 2, 2012

The Best Man Arrives On Broadway

The most recent Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man has arrived on Broadway with an all-star cast, including Will and Grace star and Emmy Winner Eric McCormack, 5-time Tony Winner and star of TV's Murder, She Wrote Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen, 5-time Emmy Winner for Murphy Brown, two-time Tony Winner James Earl Jones, Michael McKean, Tony Winner John Larroquette, and musical comedy veteran and Broadway star Kerry Butler.

The review are in. At the time of this writing, I only have access to the review from Charles Isherwood of the New York Times, who pans the production overall, saying that, "By the time the curtain came down on this starry but sluggish production, and a nominee had been formally announced, I did feel as if I’d endured a particularly fractious and constipated evening at a political convention. Need I add that acquiring this experience has never been one of my great ambitions?"

The play is rather prescient in "noting the corrupting influence of television cameras on the tone of political campaigns and the rise of pandering populism as a crucial element in the playbook of any politician hoping to make headway in a presidential contest."

That being said, the set did get an honorable mention, but not a positive one. The set comes out into the house and even into the lobby, bringing you directly into the convention hall as soon as you enter the building. While Isherwood did not like the effect or its implementation, the fact that it got into the review means that it made an impact on his memory and his thoughts on the production.

The acting got some strong notices, particularly for Michael McKean, who Isherwood says plays his role of a campaign manager expertly. Larroquette's performance is "restrained" while Candice Bergen, "making a rare stage appearance, looks a trifle stiff as the long-suffering wife, but she hits her comic marks with crisp efficiency, delivering Alice's sardonic asides with the same brittle edge she brought to her performance on TV's Murphy Brown." Kerry Butler has the right idea but takes it a bit too far.

It is the long-standing queen of musical theater who gets the highest praise, however. "The audience warms most to the veterans onstage. Ms. Lansbury, a welcome presence in many a recent Broadway season, makes every moment of her stage time count as Sue-Ellen Gamadge, a chatty and genial but steely party operative given to dictating to candidates and their wives what the female voter does and does not appreciate. The role is small, but Ms. Lansbury embodies her character with such style that she is as vivid a presence as any when she’s onstage, and manages to nail a sure laugh merely by lowering a newspaper."

The equally long-standing dramatic vet James Earl Jones also makes his mark. Isherwood says, "this consummate actor digs into his role with a relish you can surely sense from the back row of the balcony. He all but swamps the stage with Hockstader’s hearty bonhomie and zest for the machinations of backroom deal making, but also succeeds in inflecting his character — in the last rounds of a losing battle with cancer — with a moving sense of his mortality."

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