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A CurtainUp Review
The Odd Couple
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.
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).
Leonard Maltin's 2006 Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
>6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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