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A CurtainUp Review
Golden Boy

" This your girl?"— Eddie Fuseli
"I'm my mother's girl."— Lorna Moone

" I'll make him fight."—Lorna Moon
"How?"— Tom Moody
"How? Oh, leave it to me Tom. . .I'm a dame from Newark, and I know a dozen ways. "—Lorna Moon
Golden Boy
Seth Numrich and Danny Burstein (Photo credit: Paul Kolnik)
Golden Boy
Yvonne Strahovski and Seth Numrich
(Photo credit: Paul Kolnik)
When it comes to dialogue that snaps, crackles and pops with the rhythms of its characters' lingo, there's no one to beat Clifford Odets. And to experience a Broadway play the way they used to make them— you know, a stage fully populated with well developed characters and with a beginning-middle-end plot even if it takes three hours and two intermissions — Odets's first big hit, Golden Boy, is your ticket. It's hokey and the themes may not be delivered with an emphasis on subtlety, but Bartlett Sher, who so successfully helmed another Cifford Odets classic, Awake and Sing in 2006 (also at the Belasco), is back with another winner. His 75th anniversary revival is stunningly staged, uniformly well acted and certainly a lot more satisfying than some of the newer fare that's been dished up along the Rialto this season.

Most theatergoers know the story of Joe Bonaparte the young man with a golden touch on the fiddle as well as in the boxing ring and Lorna Moon, "the dame from Newark" he falls in love with through the film that made William Holden a star. Since it's available at Netflix and Turner Network was smart enough to schedule a replay on Lincoln Center's opening night that jewel of the black and white movie days may be fresh enough in your memory for you to compare the stage and film version and see if Sher's production now at the original stage production's home, the Belasco, retained some of the especially pungent bits of dialogue.

Sher's Golden Boy makes the three hours and two intermissions go by faster than some 90-minute shows I've seen. It's grittier and with more of Odets' political sensibility courtesy of Joe Bonoparte's labor organizer brother Frank and an ending less true to the '30s movie moguls' insistence on a "they lived happily ever" fadeout. But, yes, Lorna still snaps at the gangster Fuseli's "Is this your girl? with "I'm my mother's girl" and Siggie, Joe's taxi driver wise-cracking brother-in-law still declares "You can't insult me; I'm too ignorant!"

Good as Holden and Barbara Stanwick's Joe and Lorna and everyone else in that golden oldie movie were, there's nothing like seeing this story about staying true to oneself live — especially when supported by the resources to tell that story with a big cast of 19 top drawer actors, and spectacularly inventive and effective scenery (Michael Yeargan deserves his own standing ovation! — as do Donald Holder for his wizardly lighting and Catherine Zuber for the period perfect costumes for the gorgeous Yvonne Strahovski, the Bonapartes, their friends, as well as the various strivers and hoods).

In case you're unfamiliar with the story, it begins on the eve of Joe Bonaparte's twenty-first birthday. For his father it's the occasion to give him the fine violin which he scrimped and saved to buy for his future as a musician. For Joe it means going full steam ahead to make the most of his other talent, prize fighting which represents the chance for a surer and quicker way of big time success. Naturally the boxing career wins out . After all there's no way to use a fiddle to vent his s anger at people who made him feel diminished over the years or fiddle his way into a world that moves fast and where people don't "sit around like forgotten dopes." life where people who lead what he sees as a riher life, boxing wins out. Naturally too, it means a break with his father and eventually the pursuit of glory, power and money ends up crippling his finer, more authentic self. (As John Lahr notes in an article in the Lincoln Center Theater Review, his very name symbolizes the split between Joe's good and his flawed sight — bon-a-parte, as in part good and "good apart")

As the young doubly gifted but forced to choose violinist turned boxer, Seth Numrich, the young hero of War Horse, is no look and sound alike William Holden (or Luther Adler, the original stage Joey or John Garfield, in a later production). He brings a fine scrappy persona and accident, and great physical grace and emotional depth to the role. And this production's Lorna Moon, the blonde and new to Broadway Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski, is a real knockout, both in terms of her looks and acting. Her Lorna evokes memories of Born Yesterday's Billy Dawn and she and Numrich are terrific together, especially in the scenes on a park bench when their vulnerabilities are exposed.

Despite Joe's breaking from parental influence, the loving father remains in the picture to watch out for him and Bonaparte senior is touchingly portrayed, but not with syrupy excess by Tony Shalhoub who even manages to make the heavy accent real rather than overcooked. The cast is too large to give individual praise to all, though Danny Mastrogiorgio as Tom Moody and Danny Burstein as Tokio, as Joe's empathetic trainer are standouts.

To my previous praises for the scenic, lighting and costume designers, a shout out should be added for Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg's sound design. The incidental music makes even the between scenes pauses lively and enjoyable. If you add up the cost of a ticket for three of today's fashionably short Broadway offerings, Golden Boy is not only one of the best plays currently on offer, but the best bang for your buck.
Some Golden Boy Background and Trivia

Like all of Clifford Odets's plays, and perhaps even more so, the connection to the playwright's own life are quite clear. He wrote the play to achieve a much needed quick success for the failing fortunes of The Group Theater of which he was a part. And Joe Bonaparte's conflicts with his father, reflects the authors' own difficult relationship with his father.

The original Joe Bonaparte junior and senior were Luther Adler and Morris Carnovsky. Also in the cast were, Lee J. Cobb as Mr. Carp, Howard Da Silva as Lewis, Frances Farmer as Lorna Moon and Elia Kazan as Eddie Fuseli. Lee J. Cobb was again on stage in a 1952 revival at the ANTA Playhouse Joe was played by John Garfield the actor Clifford Odets had in mind when he wrote the play. Cobb who played the father on stage and in the movie was actually only 27. And Wow, did he ever lay on the Italian Papa's accent and schmaltzy devotion.

The film has an interesting behind the scenes story. Barbara Stanwyck, the film's Lorna Moon, lobbied to keep Holden in the film even though he was thought not to be up for the role which won over thousands of other actors given screen tests\. Stanwyck mentored Holden throughout the 11 weeks of filming. The young actor may not have been quite ready but he sure worked hard to earn Stanwyck's and the producers' faith, taking boxing and violin lessons before production began and continuing to practice boxing and fingering the instrument during the entire production process. According to Hollywood gossip Holden was so grateful to Stanwyck for her help and support that he sent her flowers every year on the anniversary of the first day of the filming.

Other famous names in the film: Adolphe Menjou as boxing entrepreneur and Stanwyck's married boyfriend Tom Moody; also Sam Levene as cab-driving brother-in law Siggie.

There was also a musical adaptation which starred Sammy Davis.
Golden Boy by Clifford Odets
Directed by Bartlett Sher.
Cast (alphabetical order): Michael Aronov (Siggie), Danny Burstein (Tokio), Demosthenes Chrysan (Lewis), Anthony Crivello (Eddie Fuseli), Sean Cullen (Drake), Dagmara Dominczyk (Anna), Ned Eisenberg (Roxy Gottlieb), Brad Fleischer (Pepper White), Karl Glusman (Call Boy), Jonathan Hadary (Mr. Carp), Daniel Jenkins (Barker), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Tom Moody), Dion Mucciacito (Sam), Seth Numrich (Joe Bonaparte), Vayu O’Donnell (Driscoll), Lucas Caleb Rooney (Frank Bonaparte), Tony Shalhoub (Mr. Bonaparte), Yvonne Strahovski (Lorna Moon) and David Wohl (Mickey).
Sets: Michael Yeargan
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lighting: Donald Holder
Sound: Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg
Fight Director: B. H. Barry
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, with 2 intermissions.
Lincoln Center at Belasco Theater
From 11/08/12; opening 12/06/12.
Tuesday - Saturday @8pm, Wednesday and Saturday @2pm, Sunday @3pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at December 12th press performance
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