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My Least Favorite Meal of the Day: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” on Broadway

March 20th, 2013

I’m not a morning person.
Breakfast at Tiffinay’s, which opened last night on Broadway at the Cort Theatre, hasn’t changed my mind.

Emilia Clarke as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. (photo by Jason Bell)

The debacled production attempts to adapt Truman Capote’s 1958 novella into a stylized homage to New York City and pulls out all the stops to do so. Sean Mathias, known for his international acclaim from northern Ireland to New Zealand, directed the piece while the trifecta Tony award-winning design team includes Derek McLane (scenic design), Colleen Atwood (costume design) and Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design). Throw another Tony award onto the pile with playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, The Violet Hour, Eastern Standard) and one would expect a sure-fire hit.

Greenberg does his best to capture the sweet and snarky rhythm of Capote’s text, but the language falls flat on the tongues of the two central characters, Holly Golighty (played by Emilia Clarke) and Fred (played by Cory Michael Smith) — the show feels doomed from the moment Smith opens his mouth in a floating accent that migrates from New Orleans to some long forgotten acting class from his alumnus Otterbein University.

It is the pair’s Broadway debut and their lack of magnetism, chemistry and inexplicable ‘wow factor’ slowly dissolve into a trudging attempt to keep the simple story chugging along. Greenberg has broken the theatrical convention of the fourth wall, having Smith deliver much of his dialogue to the audience. You could drive a freight train through the emotional gap and by the time Smith warms up the play is nearly over.

Emilia Clarke and Cory Michael Smith in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. (photo: Nathan Johnson)

Clarke fares better but the deck is stacked against her. The ethereal ghost of Audrey Hepburn’s film interpretation looms in the wings. The creative team smartly chose to leave Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” out of the production and Clarke’s shining moment comes when singing a lonesome alternate melody on the fire escape with Fred gazing from afar. Clarke does her best to keep things moving along, slipping in and out of gorgeous period costumes that seem to hang as slightly off as the character herself.

Mathias’s staging feels clumsy set against the sliding panels illuminated with projections designed by Wendall K. Harrington — yet another reminder that the evening may have been better spent at home with the Netflix version. The actors are put through the paces of a painfully choreographed dance sequence then later directed to imitate horseback riding by using a theatrical convention that further exemplifies their lack of physical command.

There is one cameo appearance that teases the audience with what the production could have been. Veteran actor Lee Wilkof, celebrating his eighth show on Broadway, takes command of the stage as Holly’s manager, O.J. Berman. He packs a one-two punch of a monologue that reveals more about Holly than the rest of the play combined. Loud, brash and with a roller coaster of emotion and intent, perhaps Wilkof will rub off on the younger generation of actors throughout the play’s run.

Like Holly Golightly herself, Breakfast at Tiffany’s seems to have gone astray from the onset, and as many loving hands have apparently tried to shoo her back on track, she’s inevitably a lost soul.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street 

Take the leap to read what the other critics have to say…

“Mr. Greenberg’s adaptation incorporates far more of Capote’s words than the Edwards film did, with shimmering passages of reminiscence that come directly from the book. Yet no matter how finespun the original ingredients, this particular soufflé seems doomed never to rise.” The New York Times 

“Say what you like about the hit 1961 film version—I’m not a big fan—but director Blake Edwards found a way to give the story speed and sheen while addressing the interests of a contemporary audience. Audrey Hepburn did iconic work as Holly, leaving her successors—Mary Tyler Moore in an ill-fated musical version, Stefanie Powers in a failed TV pilot, and Anna Friel in a London stage adaptation also directed by Mathias but with a different script—floundering in her wake. The lovely Clarke looks the part, but she seems so determined to show us Holly’s manipulative, role-playing side that when genuine emotion needs to bleed through, it plays like just one more calculated choice.” Backstage

“The central problem with this disappointing show has nothing to do with the ghost of Audrey Hepburn, whose Hollywood take on this particular character may well have tempted many thousands of small-town girls to head to Manhattan with the aim of beginning (and ending) the day at expensive jewelers or their metaphoric equivalent, along with someone who might pay the bill. Hepburn forged memorably sensual perfection, kissed with artifice, but she was less at home with the young lady’s roots, far from Fifth Avenue. The problem here is of simpler vintage: There’s no palpable connection between Fred and Holly, the unlikely and surely ill-fated couple of Capote’s imagination. One can watch this entire misguided and miscast production without really discerning what the one feels about the other.” Chicago Tribune

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