By Sandi Durell
The shabby press room at the Criminal Courts Building in 1928 Chicago was a dreary place to be as the vulgar, wise-cracking newspaper men ply their art of one-upmanship and dog eat dog tactics; phones are ringing, one-liners fly, women are the butt of many jokes of sexual innuendo (sounds familiar), as they wait for a somewhat dim-witted white guy, Earl Williams (John Magaro), convicted of killing a black cop, to be hung at 7 am in the courtyard. And such is The Front Page, a revival of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 Broadway hit with a mega cast of names that are the draw of the season under the watchful eye and superb direction of Jack O’Brien with period costumes by Ann Roth.
A well dressed John Slattery (who plays Hildy Johnson of The Examiner), saunters into the press room ready to say his goodbyes to the poker playing, hip flask drinking group, because he’s now getting married to sweet little society cutie Peggy (Halley Feiffer) and cutting out for the big city life of New York advertising. The guys are quick to make fun of him, including a very outstanding Dylan Baker (McCue at City News Bureau) who’s a big yapper. While Peggy and her mom (a feisty Holland Taylor) wait and wait for him in a cab, the phone keeps ringing as we hear the big boss Walter Burns (Nathan Lane), only a voice until 1 hour 45 minutes later when he finally makes an entrance, yell and scream and give orders as he works overtime making sure his prize newsman Hildy continues to get the scoop, always first. His favorite line – – “Shad-up!”
In the mix is Jefferson Mays (Bettinger of the Tribune), who features himself a poet, and maintains his roll-top corner desk far enough away to keep himself free of all germs, constantly spraying Lysol on everything and everyone. The barely recognizable floozy Molly Malloy (Earl’s girl), Sheri Renee Scott, is in and out trying to save her man as she screams at the misogynistic males who inhabit the room.
The racial references are jolting.
Other inhabitants that frequent the press room include a notable Lewis J. Stadlen, a much thinner John Goodman as the play ball foolish Sheriff Hartman with slimy Mayor (Dann Florek) – reminiscent of politics and poker – the droll, always witty Micah Stock as Woodenshoes Eichhorn, the courthouse cop who has a bent for psychoanalyzing everything and the banjo strumming Clarke Thorell as Kruger. There’s a cameo by the endearing Robert Morse who serves notice from the Governor to stay the pending execution, twice, that is the cause for much audience laughter.
The play has it all when it comes to political hacks and sleazy journalists (and is so very current in that respect) but misses greatly waiting till more than half the show is over before releasing the likes of Nathan Lane and his inimitable shtick. He is the ultimate slimy low-life editor always up to the task of delivering every line and expression so that it lands right on the money. His performance is merciless and non-stop and every reason to see this farce, The Front Page.
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44 St., 212 239-6200 Closes January 29, 2017, 2 hours, 45 minutes, 2 intermissions www.thefrontpagebroadway.com
Photos: Julieta Cervantes