Frozen in time. And that’s how Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s THE FRONT PAGE begins under the precise and rapid fire direction of Jack O’Brien who keeps this old war horse alive and kicking. Each of the three acts begins and ends with a “tableau vivant” captured by a photographer’s startling flash.
And then all comes to life in the Press Room of the Criminal Courts Building, Chicago 1928 where a bunch of tabloid reporters on the police beat play poker, kibitz, smoke, eat and wait. Wait, for their tickets to witness the hanging of condemned white anarchist Earl Williams (John Magaro) on the gallows next door for killing a black cop.
The many phones are kept busy with the reporters calling in their stories and trying not to trip over the cords while we meet a wild assortment of people that work there – or just happen to drop in.
On a smart, detailed set by Douglass W. Schmidt that includes a Chicago Cubs pennant and risqué girlie pictures plastered on the inside door of the bathroom we await the entrance of the real star of the show Nathan Lane.
We must be patient. We have to get through lots of exposition and setting up of characters and jokes. Set-ups that all beautifully pay off.
There is the human interest reporter Bensinger (Jefferson Mays) who is petrified of germs and might be mistaken by some as Nathan Lane as he makes his entrance. Twice. Garnering applause as the eager audience awaits Mr. Lane. Not that Mr. Mays doesn’t deserve it as well.
We meet Hildy Johnson (a debonair and charismatic John Slattery) who is ready to quit, get away from his tyrannical boss Earl Williams (Nathan Lane) and marry his sweetheart and move to New York and enter the world of advertising.
There is the wonderfully dense cop with a strange accent Woodenshoes Eichhorn (Micah Stock). Mollie Malloy (Sherie Rene Scott) the gal of the alleged murderer who has one of the best exits ever witnessed. Robert Morse as Mr. Pincus – a delayed and somewhat intoxicated messenger who can still steal a scene and Holland Taylor as the mother-in-law-to-be whose hat almost manages to upstage her. A subdued John Goodman as a crooked Sheriff Hartman seems to be suffering from heartburn.
The list is endless of the legendary and up-and-coming masters of comedy in this incredible ensemble.
Finally towards the end of Act II Mr. Lane arrives like a tornado. In a role that fits him like a glove. A boxing glove. And delivers the goods like a roaring inferno in Act III. The authors Hecht and MacArthur knew how to plot and write great dialogue. They start off slowly. Letting us get accustomed to the newsroom and its inhabitants. Then add delicious bits here and there bringing it up to a simmer and then to an overflowing boiling point of great farce – trying to find and capture the escaped convict.
THE FRONT PAGE is an all-around historical and hysterical document of a bygone era that still resonates today and great for a good many laughs. The ensemble is truly an ensemble and they are each and every one superb in their individual characterizations. Go and enjoy. At The Broadhurst Theatre through January 29th 2017. 2 hours 45 minutes 2 intermissions
Photos: Julieta Cervantes
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