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A CurtainUp Review
The Front Page

I'm an anarchist, not a Bolshevik.— Earl Williams
front page
Nathan Lane and John Slattery (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)
Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht's 1928 newspaper story, The Front Page, centers around the above quoted Earl Williams (John Magaro) whose been falsely condemned to a "painful date with the hangman" for killing a black policeman. The newshounds gathered in the press room of the Chicago Criminal Courts building don't much care whether he's an anarchist or a Bolchevik as Williams. What they're after is an interview before his "painful date with the hangman."

The days when newsboys hit the streets, big canvas shoulder bags filled with newspapers, and yelling "Extra! Extra!" are long gone. So are the days when big cities like New York and Chicago had more than half a dozen papers and afternoon editions. But the image of the hard-drinking, tough-talking, scoop-hungry newsmen famously captured by Hecht and MacArthur lingers. Their farce lives not only as a nostalgic depiction of another era but as an ironic reminder that corrupt politicians have not gone the way of Underwood typewriters, candlestick telephones and fedora hats.

Hecht and MacArthur's use of profanity and references to prostitutes and pimps did not keep The Front Page from being a hit when it opened on Broadway. The success of this cynical take on journalism and politics was helped more than hindered by the titillation stirred by complaints of indecency and inappropriateness. Nor did it keep The Front Page from transitioning to the silver screen, with an adaptation called His Girl Friday in which lead newspaperman Hildy Johnson was transformed into a woman (played by Hollywood's then favorite comedienne Rosalind Russell).

Though there have been numerous revivals, the star-studded one now at the Broadhurst Theater is the first time The Front Page has had a New York production in thirty years. As directed by Jack O'Brien the rapid fire dialogue with its overlapping conversations and politically incorrect references are, except for some airbrushing, all intact. So is the frantically paced plot with its farcical twists and turns.

The biggest reason to buy a ticket for a visit back to this long-ago newsroom, is not that it's a refreshing shift away from today's click-oriented media world. It's too depressing a reminder about the disappearance of so many in-print newspapers and the continued popularity of sensationalism over serious journalism. The "extra extra" factor here is the chance to see a cast this big (a body count of 27) and with so many well-known actors from stage, film and TV. Add to this a fabulously detailed and authentic set by Douglas W. Schmidt and seeing that starry cast smartly outfitted from hats to gleamingly shined shoes by Ann Roth. Heading the cast are Nathan Lane as the Examiner's ruthless editor Walter Burns and John Slattery as Hildy Johnson, his star scoop chaser. who's determined to leave the paper for a more settled life with his best girl Peggy Grant (Halley Feiffer) as Burns is determined to hold on to him. But you're going to have to wait for Lane to show up until about an hour and a half into the show. That leaves the support players to generate the laughs and keep the zany but predictable plot afloat. They indeed do their best to do so — from the key support players like Slattery's Hildy, Jefferson May's phobic about germs Bensinger, John Goodman's inept Sheriff and Dann Florek's non too honest Mayor. . .the newsroom hacks played by top drawer character actors like Dylan Baker, David Pittu, Joey Slotnick and Lewis J. Stadlen. . . also several scene stealing cameo turns by Micah Stock's opinionated cop Wooden Shoes Einhorn, Danny Mastrogiorgio's gangster-ish Diamond Louie and Sherie Rene Scott's good-hearted whore Mollie Malloy. But their best isn't quite good enough.

Clearly there's plenty of comic business to enjoy before the desperate convict makes a spectacular glass shattering escape and the big rolltop desk Benzinger has staked out as his own little office will end up serving as the play's equivalent of the typical farce's four doors for hide-and-seek funny business.

Mr. O'Brien gives everyone a chance to have a standout moment or so. However, it's not until Nathan Lane's Editor Burns, smelling an unmissable scoop, finally plants himself center stage that this production bursts into full-blown laugh-aloud mode. Sure, there's a pretty big knowing laugh from Mad Men fans, when Slattery declares that he's giving up journalism for the advertising business in New York. However, the enjoyable presentation and excellent performances notwithstanding, once you get over admiring the set and the costumes and listen to some of the insults and phone calls flying around the room, the rest of the first act and part of the second are a too dragged out setup for the events surrounding the hanging of the hapless revolutionary convicted of killing a black policeman in a city with a large, influential black voter base.

To understand how Lane enlivens everything and everyone around him, you have to see this mustachioed, constantly moving spark plug figure bustle around that stage, turning every zinger into loud and lasting laughter. His deliciously awful monster editor is another in a list of memorable Lane characters. He may not elevate anyone's current low opinion of journalism, but he'll have them laugh about it for a little while. Definitely a headline performance calling for an "Extra, Extra" shoutout.

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The Front Page
Written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Directed by Jack O'Brien
Cast: Nathan Lane (Walter Burns), John Slattery (Hildy Johnson), John Goodman (Sheriff Hartman), Jefferson Mays (Bensinger), Sherie Rene Scott (Mollie Malloy), Holland Taylor (Mrs. Grant), Robert Morse (Mr. Pincus), Dylan Baker (McCue), Patricia Conolly (Jennie),Richard Gallagher((Boy Scout), Halley Feiffer (Peggy Grant), Dann Florek (The Mayor), Joe Frobrich (Frank)John Magaro (John Magaro), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Diamond Louie), Michael X. Martin (Tony), Christopher McDonald (Murphy), Drew McVety(A Sailor), David Pittu (Schwartz), Joey Slotnick (Wilson),Jonathan Spivey(2nd Policeman), Lewis J. Stadlen (Endicott), Micah Stock (Woodenshoes Eichom), Clarke Thorell (Kruger), Tony Ward(Carl)
Sets: Douglas Schmidt
Costumes: Ann Roth
Lighting: Brian MacDevitt
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Hair and Makeup: Campell Young and Luc VanSchueren
Stage Manager: Trip Phillips
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours includes 2 intermissions
Broadhurst Theatre 235 W. 44th Street (212) 239-6200
From 9/20/16; opening 10/20/16; closing 1/29/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/23 press matinee

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