Review: ‘The Front Page’ at Broadhurst Theater

Stop the Presses! Nah, On Second Thought, Never Mind

By Jonathan Spira on 28 October 2016
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“Don’t bury the lead” is a maxim that every newspaperman is familiar with. One would hardly expect a play by newspapermen about newspapermen to do just that but that’s what happens in the current revival of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 comedy “The Front Page,” which opened last Thursday at the Broadhurst Theater.

Once the theatergoer makes it through the tedious first act, however, he will be rewarded for his patience with a rip-roaringly funny production.

Set in the dingy, nicotine-stained press room of Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building, we first meet a group of newspapermen acting like the fraternity brothers they probably once were, passing the time and wondering when their colleague, Hildy Johnson (John Slattery) of the Chicago Examiner, will show up. It takes him a while, of course, and his boss, Walter Burns (inimitably portrayed by Nathan Lane) keeps calling the press room looking for him.

Hildy, it turns out, is set to leave the Examiner and the newspaper business forever, moving to New York to get married and go into advertising (a comment that gets more than a few chuckles, given Slattery’s role as Roger Sterling as head of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency in “Mad Men”).

However, being a newspaperman is in his blood and leaving is not quite as simple as it seems. Instead of saying goodbye to the gang, he is dragged into a case unfolding in the courthouse: an anarchist, Earl Williams (John Magaro), scheduled to be hanged at dawn a few hours hence, shot a policeman and escaped.

No one involved in this caper has clean hands, least of all the Sheriff (John Goodman) who gave Earl Williams the gun.

Walter doesn’t make his entrance (with the exception of his phone calls) until the end of the second of the play’s three acts and it is probably just in time as the audience probably forgot that Nathan Lane is the star of the production.

A few characters (besides Mr. Lane, of course) are true standouts. Danny Mastrogiorgio is hysterical as Woodenshoes Eichhorn, the German policeman, and Robert Morse as the unbribable Mr. Pincus gives a memorable performance in his small but pivotal role as the hapless messenger. While Halley Feiffer is a little too wooden in her role as Hildy’s fiancée, Peggy Grant, her mother was portrayed beautifully by Holland Taylor.

Douglas Schmidt’s newsroom set is about as authentic as it gets as are Ann Roth’s costumes and they conflate to give a realistic feeling of Chicago’s Prohibition era, mobsters, corrupt mayors, and all. All that’s missing is some bathtub gin to get you through the first act.

THE DETAILS

“The Front Page”
Broadhurst Theater
235 W 44th Street
New York, N.Y. 10036
www.thefrontpagebroadway.com

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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