It’s Friday, meaning that I’m in The Wall Street Journal, this time with a triple-barreled review of two off-Broadway openings and a Broadway cast change.
First is The Foreigner:
It says in the program that Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner,” originally produced in 1983 and revived this week by the Roundabout Theatre Company, is “one of America’s most popular plays.” That was news to me–I’d never heard of it–so I did a little nosing around and found out that “The Foreigner,” which survived tepid reviews to run for two years Off Broadway, has since become a staple item at regional and community theaters around the country. It figures. Like “Charley’s Aunt” and “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “The Foreigner” is a pleasant, undemanding farce built around an inherently silly situation, the kind of play that’s as actor-proof as a comedy can be. So long as they learn their lines and follow the stage directions, even a bunch of raw amateurs can put it on and expect to get laughs.
Why, then, is the Roundabout going to the trouble of reviving so provincial a show? Two words: Matthew Broderick. The erstwhile co-star of “The Producers” was born to play Charlie Baker, the mild-mannered, tightly wrapped Brit who pays a visit to a Georgia fishing lodge and is there induced (don’t ask how) to pose as a foreigner of unknown origin who can’t speak a word of English. Mr. Broderick gleefully hurls himself into the fray, tossing off meaningless mock-Slavic monologues (“Byottsky dottsky! Perch damasa baxa raxa”) and generally conducting himself like a lunatic on vacation from the asylum….
Next, Five by Tenn:
I was downright flabbergasted by “And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens,” the third part of “Five by Tenn,” the Manhattan Theatre Club’s too-cutely-named quintuple bill of previously unknown one-act plays that opened last night at City Center’s Stage II. Unlike the other plays on the program, this 1959 vignette about a flouncy New Orleans drag queen (Cameron Folmar) and the tough-guy sailor he picks up in a bar (Myk Watford) is concise, realistic, free of pseudo-poetry and wholly involving. Why does it work so well? Could it be because Williams, in a radical departure from his usual practice, chose for the first and only time to write a play whose characters and subject matter are explicitly gay? (That’s what the press release claims, anyway.) Whatever the reason, the results are memorable….
Finally, I went back to Wonderful Town after a year’s absence to see a familiar new face:
Brooke Shields, the latest celebrity non-singer to join the cast of a Broadway musical, has replaced Donna Murphy in “Wonderful Town.” I can’t think of a scarier act to follow: Ms. Murphy was stupendously fine as Ruth Sherwood, the wisecracking writer who knows a hundred easy ways to lose a man. The good news is that Ms. Shields is pretty damn fine herself, while her singing isn’t nearly as lame as I’d feared (though she crashed and burned in the two-part harmony of “Ohio”). A nifty physical comedienne, she mugs like a Marx Brother, and though she hasn’t enough vocal oomph to bounce her songs off the back wall of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, I was happily surprised to see how much she managed to make out of her comic numbers.
Guess what? There’s a link! As OGIC mentioned a few days ago, this is the week when the Journal makes its online edition available for free in order to attract new subscribers. So if you want to read the whole thing, go here–then browse around at your leisure and see how you like the rest of the paper. I’m prejudiced, but I think the Journal Online is one of the best deals in journalism. See for yourself.