NEW YORK – While theatergoers have a revival of a popular production, "The Odd Couple," and a new jukebox musical, "Jersey Boys," on Broadway, they also can look forward to a traditional Christmas favorite, "A Christmas Carol," in Hartford.
"The Odd Couple"
When Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick made theatrical history as the stars of Mel Brooks’ mega-musical hit, "The Producers," it was a natural progression that mercurial Broadway would find them another vehicle to cash in on their popularity. A revival of the 1965 Neil Simon play, "The Odd Couple," would seem like a perfect fit. Before rehearsals even began, the announcement of "Lane and Broderick together again!" had sold $21 million in tickets, selling out its entire run, which will last until April at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on West 47th Street.
"The Odd Couple" has always been one of Mr. Simon’s most successful plays. The movie version with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon was a great hit, spawning a television series with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall that lasted for years.
The play’s premise is amusing and ingenious: if you put a couple of divorced men together in the same flat, they may get on one another’s nerves in just the same way that wives and husbands do – over the little things. The divorced men are Oscar Madison (Nathan Lane), a gruff sportswriter, grim but kindly; and Felix Unger (Matthew Broderick), who is nervous, fussy and exasperating.
Divorced for some time, Oscar is fairly well adjusted to separation. Felix, on the other hand, is recently divorced from his wife of 12 years and is in need of a friend and a home. Felix really loves his wife and family and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, so Oscar takes him in.
Felix not only cleans up the apartment, but demands that Oscar and his poker-playing cronies keep it tidy. Felix cooks, too, and insists that Oscar come home for dinner on time.
When he thinks of his wife, Felix cries. Ultimately, all the cleaning, cooking and crying create a crisis. In a comic masterpiece of a scene, the two men try to howl one another down as an exasperated husband and wife might do. Moments later, they entertain a pair of giddy English girls – the hilarious Pidgeon Sisters (Olivia d’Abo, Jessica Stone) – from the apartment upstairs. Felix shows them pictures of his wife and children, then gets teary over them and gets the girls to weep, too. That takes care of everything; Oscar asks Felix to leave.
Mr. Lane and Mr. Broderick seem miscast and a bit uncomfortable in their roles. None of the Lane-Broderick comic chemistry that ignited "The Producers" occurs in this "Odd Couple." Mr. Lane probably would have been better playing Felix; he seems at heart the more sensitive soul. By the same token, Mr. Broderick looks too young to play Felix and never seems to be able to nail the serious effect the estrangement has had on his character.
The play has been directed by Joe Mantello, a gifted director who seems at sea in Simonland. Although the laughs land, somehow the production is flat, and the comedy remains grounded, never taking flight. The play seems more dated and trivial than it should.
The supporting cast is full of excellent actors, none of whom gets a chance to shine. The sole exception is Brad Garrett from the hit TV series "Everybody Loves Raymond," who is making his Broadway debut as Murray the cop.
Chalk this "Odd Couple" up as a mildly entertaining evening which, even with its star power, in the end is a disappointment.
"Jersey Boys," the new musical about the lives and music of the ’50’s group The Four Seasons, seems to be the first musical hit of the fall, and the first jukebox musical to succeed since ABBA’s long-running hit, "Mamma Mia!" After several jerry-built attempts at fashioning shows around the songbooks of John Lennon ("Lennon"), The Beach Boys ("Good Vibrations") and Elvis ("All Shook Up"), "Jersey Boys" brings some fresh life to the pop musical bio genre.
It is at the newly rechristened August Wilson Theater (formerly the Virginia) on West 52nd Street.
"Jersey Boys" succeeds where the other shows failed for several reasons. The book, by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, tells the boys’ bumpy, blue-collar tale in a straightforward, narrative way. Granted, their colorful backstory keeps hedging toward soap opera and Oz in Act One, and toward "The Godfather" in Act Two.
Someone once said that if The Four Seasons had not succeeded as a group, they all would have been either dead or in jail. Mr. Brickman and Mr. Elice keep their rags-to-riches saga mostly on track. Mr. Brickman, who co-wrote Woody Allen’s "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan," also lends some wit to the show.
Director Des McAnuff, who brought The Who’s "Tommy" to Broadway, brings skill, imagination and pace to the proceedings. The young cast, most of whom are making their Broadway debuts, is nothing short of remarkable. The actors who play The Four Seasons – Daniel Reichard (Bob Gaudio), John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Christian Hoff (Tommy DeVito) and J. Robert Spencer (Nick Massi) – all give breakthrough performances. Mr. Young emerges as Broadway’s newest star.
Ultimately, "Jersey Boys" rocks because of its music, which turns out to be strong, varied and surprisingly theatrical. When the group starts to sing such signature songs as "Sherry," "Fallen Angel," "Rag Doll," or a dozen others, the audience levitates with joy. That is something I haven’t seen happen in a theater in eons.
"A Christmas Carol"
The Hartford Stage is presenting its annual production of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol," adapted and staged by the company’s artistic director, Michael Wilson.
It will feature Bill Raymond as Ebenezer Scrooge. Besides the songs and dances, this year there will be an added attraction: flying.
Performances began Nov. 25 and run to Dec. 24. Information is available online at www.hartfordstage.org.