The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Royal Family of Broadway
By Macey Levin
Don't let the past confuse you, Julie. You made your choice years ago. The only place you get more than one whack at life is the— stage. Fanny
Arnie Butler, Harriet Harris, Laura Michelle Kelly, Chip Zien, Kathryn Fitzgerald, Hayley Podschun (photo: Daniel Rader)
Barrington Stage Company opens its main stage season with the world premiere of The Royal Family of Broadway based on George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's 1927 play The Royal Family. This musical version by Rachel Sheinkin (book) and William Finn (music and lyrics), the team that created The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Would that this production were as successful as Spelling Bee.

Taking place in 1927, the acting family is led by the grand dame Fanny Cavendish (Harriet Harris) and her offspring: Broadway star Julie (Laura Michelle Kelly), who regrets giving up her lover from 20 years ago to remain on the stage . . .and Tony (Will Swenson), an alcoholic, scandal-ridden actor who has deserted the stage for Hollywood and now wants to avoid arrest and dicover his spirituality. . . . Julie's daughter Gwen (Hayley Podschun) who is torn between acting and being "normal."

Hovering over all of them is the late, great Shakespearean actor, Aubrey Cavendish, whose life size portrait hangs in a place of honor in the living room, as the measure of their theater, therefore life, success. The family is in the midst of making life-altering choices. The show based on the renowned acting family the Barrymores, is a love letter to the theater;but it's a letter that needs some editing.

The first song, "Just Another Regular Night/Listen to the Beat" sets a terrific tone, with Kelly leading a dynamic singing/dancing chorus in a rousing salute to Broadway production numbers. If the rest of the show could have maintained the energy and focus of this routine it would be in good shape.

Swenson makes his grand entrance with a razzle-dazzle number "Too Much Drama in My Life" that becomes much too busy and broad. The first act feels prolonged and has an anti-climactic closing which is dramatically effective but feels tacked on.

The opening of act two is a broad, shtick-y number, "Avaunt, Avaunt" that doesn't move the plot forward though it stars Fanny's brother Bert (Arnie Butler) and his wife Kitty (Kathryn Fitzgerald,) the two clutzy non-talented members of the family. This act moves better with moments of effective drama, and, as in most early 20th century plays, all problems and conflicts are solved.

Harris's Fanny Cavendish has the carriage and mien as the family's doyenne to establish an imperious attitude enhanced by myriad bon mots some of which are hysterical throwaways. Her philosophy is delineated in "Stupid Things I Won't Do," such as read a newspaper (except for the reviews) and lead a normal life. Podschun's Gwen is being courted by stock broker Perry Stewart (A. J. Shively) who wants her to leave the stage. Their scenes and numbers, especially "Baby Let's Stroll," are charming. Kelly has a splendid voice but when she sings in her higher register she is difficult to understand. This sometimes occurs in her dialogue delivery.

Swenson is larger-than-life as Tony, but he seems to channeling the pirate king from Barrington's in which he excelled a couple of years ago. Even though he brazenly overacts, his tongue-in-cheek exudes the charm of a self-proscrbed rascal. Alan H. Green plays Gilbert Marshall, Julie's long-separated love, with a strength and a voice that fills the theater. Bert and Kitty supply much of the low comedy in comparison to the wit of the others. Chip Zien nicely rounds out the principals in the cast as Oscar Wolfe, who has been the family's patient and tolerant manager for decades.

Director John Rando and choreographer Joshua Bergasse have worked together on several shows at Barrington Stage as well as on Broadway. Rando has tried to keep the action moving but he is somewhat inhibited by Rachel Sheinkin's book. He employs frequent slapstick moments to offset some of the lengthier dialogue scenes. Bergasse's dance numbers, the ensembles and the duets, especially "Baby Let's Stroll" are over too soon. William Finn's score is a varied medley of big Broadway numbers, charming and character-driven solos, and a number of comic pieces.

The set designed by Alexander Dodge is flexible with scenery dropping in from the flies, rolling onstage from the wings and furniture placed by ensemble members who are efficient and unobtrusive. The major setting, the Cavendish home, is beautifully decorated reminiscent of the 1920's. As effective as the sets are the costumes of Alejo Vietti are absolutely stunning and detailed which evoke the pre-Depression era and suitably define the various characters.

This is defined as a world premiere but it needs some work to tighten it up. On the other hand, if you know and love theater and enjoy energetic dance numbers, some over-the-top acting and a melodious score, you will enjoy The Royal Family of Broadway.
Musical Numbers Act One
Musical Numbers
Act One
    1. Just Another Regular Night/Listen to the Beat
    2. Marry A Man Of The Theater
    3. Twenty Years of Questions
    4. Too Much
    5. Baby Let's Stroll
    6. Stupid Things I Won't Do
    7. How I Wanted 8. The Girl I'll Never Be
    9. The Royal Family Of Broadway
    10. Absolutely Not
Act Two
11. Avaunt, Avaunt
12. Nobody's Left In The Theatre
13. I Have Found
14. More Drama (Reprise)
15. I Couldn't Want More
16. If You Marry An Actress
17. Gloriously Imperfect
18. Civilization Won't Die
19. Finale

Search CurtainUp in the box below Back to Curtainup Main Page

The Royal Family of Broadway
Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Based on The Royal Family by George S. Kaufman & Edna Ferber and an original adaptation by Richard Greenberg
Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Directed by John Rando
Choreography by Joshua Bergasse
Cast: Harriet Harris (Fanny Cavendish) Laura Michelle Kelly (Julie Cavendish) Hayley Podschun (Gwen Cavendish) A. J. Shively (Perry Stewart) Gilbert Marsahll (Alan H. Green) Holly Ann Butler (Della/Ensemble) Arnie Butler (Herbert (Bert) Dean) Kathryn Fitzgerald (Kitty Dean) Chip Zien (Oscar Wolfe) Will Swenson (Tony Cavendish) Ensemble: Michelle E. Carter, Tim Fuchs, Eli Goykhman, Tyler Johnson-Campion, Lindsay Kraft, Sam Paley, Tyler Roberts, Patrick Sharpe, Westley Strausman, Chiara Trentalange, Jake Vacanti, Noah Virgile
Scenic Design: Alexander Dodge
Costume Design: Alejo Vietti
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Joshua D. Reid Orchestrations: Bruce coughlin
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz
Running Time: Two hours, thirty minutes; one intermission
Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, Pittsfield, MA
From 6/7/18; opening 6/13/18; closing 7/7/18
Reviewed by Macey Levin at June 13 performance

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Royal Family of Broadway
  • I disagree with the review of The Royal Family of Broadway
  • The review made me eager to see The Royal Family of Broadway
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

©Copyright 2018, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from