Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Royal Family

"The Royal Family" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's classic play, based on the Barrymores is in a new revival directed by Doug Hughes.

It's a terrific cast with Rosemary Harris, Jan Maxwell, Tony Roberts, John Glover, Ana Gasteyer and Larry Pine.

With Mr. Hughes at the helm of such a talented crew, you'd expect a rollicking evening of smashing theatre.

Sadly, it's merely cute and fun.

I will grant that having seen a preview, there may be some bugs still to work through, but even then the bones should be in place if things are going to work well or not. Mr. Roberts, miscast as business manager, Oscar Wolfe, was still fumbling with lines. Ms. Harris as the matriarch, Fanny Cavendish was regal, as always. Her death scene was remarkable, particularly since she faces upstage at that moment - a tribute to the art and craft of stage performance. Ms. Maxwell, one of my favorite NY actors, felt oddly miscast as the reigning stage diva, Julie Cavendish. She had the patter and flourishes in place, but they somehow felt forced.

It looks as though John Lee Beatty recycled the apartment set from last spring's Accent on Youth, embellishing for the grandness of the Cavendishes. Catherine Zuber's costumes are spot on.

It's certainly a worthy goal get Rosemary Harris on a Broadway stage, but shouldn't the production be worth her time and effort? This traditional staging seems to offer no reasons to explain why this revival has come to pass. It certainly meets none of the points outlined in the MTC mission statement, being neither new nor innovative.

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