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A CurtainUp Review
The Odd Couple
You leave me little notes on my pillow: `We're all out of Cornflakes. F.U.' It took me three hours to figure out that F.U. was Felix Ungar. --- Oscar during his I'm not going to take it any more blow-up about the fastidious roommate who has become more of a wife than the one who abondoned him six months earlier.

Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick
Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
There are those who say that strong characters in a play can result in a successful sitcom, but that a sitcom doesn't translate well to the stage. Neil Simon's 1965 comedy The Odd Couple is something of a hybrid. It was a stage comedy before the movie adaptation and countless TV spin-off episodes made Oscar and Felix synonymous with slob and neatnick to millions. Forty years later, any stage revival needs a dynamic new Oscar and Felix to make the now dominant sitcom ethos give way to the character driven stage personality that made this a jewel in Simon's crown when he reigned as Broadway's Comedy King.

The concerted wisdom that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, whose Bialystock and Bloom made The Producers a major hit, could pump fresh theatrical blood into the forty-year-old comedy has been confirmed by a $21.5 million advance sale that trumps anything to the contrary I or any other critic might say. Not that I'm about to tell you that Lane and Broderick don't sustain Oscar and Felix's place in the archives of classic comic duos or that Simon's play isn't still a fine example of a smartly crafted, zinger stuffed comedy with a big heart.

If this Oscar and Felix echo enough of Max and Leo to make you look around for a pit with an orchestra to strike up the music, and if the laughs aren't quite so nonstop that you're likely to miss a few, no matter! Nathan and Matthew (whether Max and Leo or Oscar and Felix), plus nostalgia for a by-gone era of good time shows, is exactly what anyone who feels lucky to snag a $100 ticket (that's not counting those with premium and scalper price tags) wants. And that's exactly what director Joe Mantello and his actors and creative team deliver. A nostalgic, often funny, enjoyable two hours -- with the bonus of also evoking flashes of other Oscar and Felixes (Art Carney/Felix on stage, Walter Matthau/Oscar on stage & screen, Jack Lemmon/ Felix on screen, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as TV's Oscar and Felix).

For me, the opening scene, which begins without either of the two main characters on stage, has always been and still is the funniest and most memorable. That's when we see the Friday poker gang gathered around the table of the messy living room of the recently divorced Oscar's spacious but sloppy West Side Manhattan apartment with its exposed ceiling beams, pillars and walls trimmed with decorative molding (another credit for John Lee Beatty, the man most likely to be anyone's first choice for a complete home makeover -- and with its $240 a month rent, an ironic comment on today's cost of living and theater going).

I wasn't surprised that stage veterans Lee Wilkof, Rob Bartlett and Peter Frechette proved reliably satisfying but the stage debut of Brad (Everybody Loves Raymond) Garrett as Speed, the cop, proved to be one of the special pleasures of this production. Even before Lane arrives, this impeccable ensemble establishes that we are in the home of the slob of slobs, with comments like Roy, the accountant's (Frechette) "I saw milk standing there that wasn't even in a bottle."

When Lane joins his buddies with "I got brown sandwiches and green sandwiches" he is of course greeted by applause. His Oscar is indeed endearing enough to deserve it even though he's hardly a jock-y sports writer. Matthew Broderick, contrary to some negative comments you may have heard, IS still a fine foil for Lane's exasperated, red-in-the-face shtick. His Felix, also about to join the ranks of divorced men, is less a replay of Leo Bloom than his portrayal of the milquetoasty Charlie Baker in The Foreigner which was the main reason to see the Roundabout's revival of that play last year (the review). As with Charlie, Broderick again segues from passive nerd to aggressively take-charge domestic tyrant, not much of a poker player, but drolly poker faced -- except for the occasional gleeful smile or tearful moment.

Jessica Stone as Cecily Pigeon & Olivia d'Abo asGwendolyn Pigeon
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Simon, never one to overlook the opposite sex, introduced two elevator acquaintances -- the British Pigeon sisters -- whose date with the two bachelors is a still hilarious interlude capped with a burnt London broil. Jessica Stone's and Olivia d'Abo (dressed and accessorized to period perfection by Ann Roth) live up to their giggly characters' names with avian aplomb and provide the play with its neat conclusion.

In a more risk taking and perfect world, Lane and Broderick would have switched roles -- if Art Carney, could play both Felix and Ralph Cramden's not too neat foil Ed Norton, why couldn't Broderick play against type? And, with Hairspray's Marc Shaiman providing original incidental music, its hard to banish the thought that a musical adaptation would offer more bang for those big bucks.

For trivia fans: The Odd Couple played at the Plymouth Theatre for 966 performances and won four Tonys. It returned to the Broadhurst in 1986 for 296 performances with Oscar as Olive (y Rita Moreno) and Felix as Florence (Sally Struthers). There's also been an animated version featuring a Felix-like cat and an Oscar-like Dog (1975), a black cast version (1982).

By Neil Simon
Directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Nathan Lane (Oscar Madison, Matthew Broderick (Felix Ungar); Rob Bartlett (Speed), Olivia d'Abo (Gwendolyn Pigeon), Brad Garrett (Murray), Peter Frechette (Roy), Jessica Stone (Cecily Pigeon), Lee Wilkof (Vinnie).
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald Original Music: Marc Shaiman
Hair Design: David Brian Brown
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includesone intermission
Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street 212-307-4100
From 10/04/05; opening 10/27/05 -- Broderick and Lane extending their commitment to 6/04/06.
>Tuesday 8:00pm / Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm / Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8:00pm / Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm / Sunday 3:00pm.
Tickets: $60 to $100
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 1st performance
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©2005  Elyse Sommer