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High Class Humor: ‘Present Laughter’ on Broadway

April 6th, 2017 Comments off
(l to r) Kristine Nielsen, Kate Burton, and Kevin Kline in 'Present Laughter.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Kristine Nielsen, Kate Burton, and Kevin Kline in ‘Present Laughter.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Let’s cut to the chase. Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter is a brilliantly fine-tuned comedy of style and substance, and if you want to see an ensemble of actors that truly embodies the very best of Broadway, I suggest you grab a seat at the St. James Theatre while you can during the production’s limited 16-week run.

Led by Kevin Kline (Tony Award winner for The Pirates of Penzance and On the Twentieth Century) as Gerry Essendine, a self-absorbed comedic stage actor preparing for a theatrical tour of Africa, the plot follows a handful of characters intertwined in Gerry’s life, including his estranged wife Liz (Kate Burton); producer Henry (Peter Francis James) and manager Morris (Reg Rogers); smart-mouthed secretary Monica (Kristine Nielsen); obsessed fan Roland (Bhavesh Patel); and several one-night trysts, including the wide-eyed 20-something Daphne (Tedra Millan) and Henry’s wife Joanna (Cobie Smulders).

Kevin Kline in 'Present Laughter.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Kevin Kline in ‘Present Laughter.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

As the action unfolds, Gerry is thrust into a cavalcade of hysteria as everyone wants a piece of the persona he has created. This juxtaposition of who Gerry really is and what he represents to his adoring fans is confusing even to him. Kline creates a character that is broadly comedic, yet with an underlying authenticity that makes you adore him in spite of his bloated ego.

Take one look at today’s headlines and you can see versions of Gerry simmering among the higher ranks of our politicians—except for one major difference: Gerry has heart and a wisp of vulnerability that makes him relatable.

Kline, who has vacillated a successful career between theater and film for nearly 40 years, has plenty of A-list talent to folly with and they rise to the occasion in nearly every instance. As his wife and manager Liz, Kate Burton if often tasked with playing the straight face to the antics surrounding her—not an easy feat—but she does it with such grace and style you wonder how Gerry could ever let her slip away. But it is Nielsen’s sharp-tongued Monica that really keeps Gerry in check along with the rest of the comings and goings. As the bumbling pair of business partners, James and Rogers jet in and out of the action with precision, and Rogers, especially, is a charm to watch with his purposefully mush-mouthed dialect and ever-present cocktail.

Cobie Smulders and Kevin Kline in 'Present Laughter.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Cobie Smulders and Kevin Kline in ‘Present Laughter.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Act II begins much like Act I, with Gerry dealing with the repercussions of a one-night-stand. But while the first tryst was with the more manageable Daphne, the second one with Joanna reverberates more deeply among his tight-knit clan. Smulders is—no pun intended—smouldering and I hope that Broadway can keep her around as her television and film career take off.

The production value is equally first-rate, with a gorgeously detailed set (David Zinn) in saturated shades of Wedgwood blue, jewel-toned costumes in exquisite cuts (Susan Hilferty), and hair design (Josh Marquette) that captures the allure of the late 30s.

Stuelpnagel (who was nominated for a Tony award last year for directing Hand to God) keeps things moving at a brisk pace and though the action-packed staging is meticulously choreographed, Present Laughter remarkably feels as though it’s unfolding for the very first time. 

Present Laughter
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Through July 2

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo

“Guvnor” Opens, Gyllenhaal Is In, “Ghost” Hits a Snag & More Theater News

April 20th, 2012 Comments off

James Corden in "One Man, Two Guvnors". Photo by Joan Marcus.

This week’s news round-up is brought to you by the number “2”, as in hot theatrical duos taking the stage:

  • Like some kamikaze European vacation (if it’s Thursday, it must be a musical), the unrelenting stream of show openings to make the Tony cutoff continued as the British farce One Man, Two Guvnors and the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Clybourne Park both bowed to rave reviews. [I’m seeing Clybourne tonight so I’ll have a report next week.]
  • Another dynamic duo is taking the stage up at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer. Bradley Cooper (always of Alias to me) and the divine Patricia Clarkson will star in a revival of The Elephant Man. A musical version of Far From Heaven will also be in the festival — so the actress who gets to play Clarkson’s role from that film will be feeling no extra pressure, right?
  • Caissie Levy & Richard Fleeshman in "Ghost". Photo by Joan Marcus.

    Jake Gyllenhaal is not a duo. But he certainly has a nice pair of something (eyes, yes, we’ll go with eyes) — so he can be a part of this round-up. He also belongs here because he’s making his New York stage debut  in Roundabout Theatre Company’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet. He and his nice eyes will open September 20.

  • Molly, you in trouble, girl. At least, that’s how I felt for the talented and likable leading lady Caissie Levy last night when I caught a preview of Ghost The Musical (review thoughts will wait until it officially opens). During her big, character arch defining 11 o’clock number, the extraordinarily complicated video wall set seemed to be off its tracking and the curtain was brought down. Tech problems happen in previews and are usually no big deal; the show was up and running again in 20 minutes, right from the middle of Levy’s last verse.  The tough break here is that last night was a big reviewer night. Playbill reports that many of the majors including the New York Times were there last night (they somehow do not include my name). Kudos to Levy and company for jumping back in and giving it their all but one couldn’t help but detect a note of bittersweet disappointment in Levy’s curtain call — standing ovation notwithstanding. I wanted to give her a big hug and tell her it didn’t affect my feelings about her work at all. Oh, and the name of the song she was singing — “Nothing Stops Another Day”. Indeed.