Little did George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber realize in 1927 when they wrote “The Royal Family”, that they were far ahead of their time in writing the first reality show based on a year in the lives of the theatrical family called Cavendish. It’s amazing that their three act comedy still resonates with great humor and heart.
Old fashioned? Definitely not. It is a wonderfully written valentine to the Barrymore family and to the passion that actors have for their craft. Filled with wit and over the top characters that fill the Cavendish mansion with love, theatricality and enough mayhem to rival any stage production that Fanny, the ailing matriarch (an incandescent Rosemary Harris), her daughter Julie (a Tony worthy Jan Maxwell) the reigning star of the stage and her daughter Gwen (a shining Kelli Barrett) who hasn’t decided yet whether to appear with her mom on stage or to marry Perry (dapper Freddy Arsenault).
In fact, Julie hasn’t decided whether to continue on the stage or to finally hook up with her long time admirer Gilbert (a steadfast Larry Pine) who leads a stable but dull life making lots of money. Something some members of the Cavendish family find difficult to do. Especially Tony (based on John Barrymore – a take charge, free spirit, easy to love and harder to appease son of Fanny who has gone off to Hollywood only to come sneaking back because he has had a dalliance with the film director’s gal and has to escape the press and lawyers by escaping to Europe. All he needs is a last minute passport and the aforementioned cash. He is dashingly played by Reg Rogers.
Then there is Fanny’s aging brother Herbert Dean (John Glover – is there any part that he cannot be all but wondrous in?) still believing he can be the leading man who along with his daffy wife Kitty (sassy Ana Gasteyer) tag along hoping to be cast and not cast out of the mansion where free food and drinks are amply supplied by Della the maid (Caroline Stefanie Clay) and manservant Jo (David Greenspan) who both bring originality to their characters. There is Oscar Wolfe – manager and confidant – excellently played by understudy Anthony Newfield subbing for the ailing but recovering Tony Roberts.
All of these people populate the sumptuous set designed by John Lee Beatty, are beautifully costumed by Catherine Zuber and directed with skill, finesse and élan by Doug Hughes who knows how far they can go before going too far. It is a magnificent production and it is hard to believe that it will only be running through November 22nd.
So head on down to the box office of the MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and secure some seats. Or if you don’t want to be old fashioned use the internet. However you get your tickets, get them. You will have a sparkling evening with great performances by the entire ensemble cast. “The Royal Family” is not only a feast for the eyes, it is charming and witty and will touch you with its love of family with the continuance of the Cavendish legacy.