Monday, April 9, 2012

The Best Man @ Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Everywhere you may turn, one is sure to find something on the current presidential race - from new programs to late night talk shows to Saturday Night Live.  Well, as it turns out, Broadway has a few things to say about political campaigns too.  Gore Vidal’s power house political drama, The Best Man, returns to Broadway featuring what can only be considered as ‘the greatest cast of all time’ - James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette, Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack, and Kerry Butler!  The play may be set in 1960, but with a fresh cast, beautiful designs, and marvelous direction, this piece feels fresh, current, and relevant.  The Best Man is truly the not to me missed show of the season!
One spot, two candidates.  Front runner Secretary William Russell, has been around the block and is well trusted, but is facing marital issues that could stop him in his tracks.  Just behind him is Senator Joseph Cantwell, a young and dashing newcomer with a long buried secret that could stop him from seeing the nomination.  Complete with several twists and turns, this piece is an almost three hour long ‘behind closed doors’ drama.  A lot can happen over the span of a convention, but just who will come out the victor?  That is one hundred percent up to the candidates and their staff - politics is a risky business … may the best man win!
Too often on Broadway today big names get thrown into parts to sell tickets, regardless of whether or not they fit the bill; however, this crazy talented ensemble is a pleasant exception!  Each cast member shines and tackles this piece with all of the guts and glory that is needed to make the world of politics feel fresh.  Leading the ensemble are the two candidates Secretary William Russell (John Larroquette, How to Succeed …) and Senator Joseph Cantwell (Eric McCormack, television’s Will & Grace).  Larroquette proves why he is moving from hit to hit as he delivers another stellar performance.  He has the ability to captivate an audience with his smooth voice and slick acting chops.  Combined with Candice Bergen (television’s Boston Legal) as Alice Russell, his distant wife, Larroquette completes the pair perfectly.  Bergen sweeps the stage with her spot on comedic timing and honesty.  Together Larroquette and Bergen shine; they may be the old dogs in the presidential race, but they can still play with the best of them - a.k.a. McCormick as the smooth talking new comer.  McCormick takes the stage with force, full of life and energy - delivering the perfect candidate smile that says, “Tell me what you want to hear and I will say it.”  His opposite, over the top housewife Mabel Cantwell, is played by the wonderful Kerry Butler (Catch Me If You Can).  Known for her crazy and lovable musical theatre characters, Butler brings all of that same quirk to this piece.  Side by side, McCormick and Butler are not only dashing and sexy, they are the perfect in-your-face American couple - the kind that one cannot stand, but loves at the exact same time.  While the candidates might be the center of attention now, those who came before them are not to be forgotten.  Angela Lansbury (A Little Night Music) takes on the feisty Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge, Chairman of the Woman’s Division.  Lansbury does not hold back one ounce, giving a truly funny and captivating performance, proving why she is one of Broadway’s bests … ever.  Right behind her is James Earl Jones (Driving Miss Daisy) as Former President Arthur Hockstader.  Jones proves why age has no factor as he gives one of the most energetic  and youthful performances of his career - full of heart, laughs, and good old fashioned political morals.  While this may only be the biggest names, the rest of the ensemble is not to be ignored, as they each bring Gore Vidal’s classic play back in a big, bold way!
While written in 1960, The Best Man is still impressively relevant today.  Gore Vidal (An Evening with Richard Nixon) wrote a script that is so truthful it is almost scary as to how politicians really function.  While this is the second revival, director Michael Wilson (Dividing the Estate) put a fresh new spin on it by assembling not only an all-star cast, but an all-star production team as well.  Transforming the entire theatre into a convention hall, scenic designer Derek McLane (Anything Goes) delivers a gorgeous three location set that moves and spins to create a glamorous Philadelphia hotel.  From the backstage area of the convention to each candidate’s room, the set is light perfectly by designer Kenneth Posner (Other Desert Cities).  The theatre glowed as John Gromada’s (Seminar) sound design filled the air with trumpets and organs bursting out in patriotic song.  Sounds of the convention floor rang out as television screens around the theatre broadcasted the latest press updates thanks to Peter Nigrini’s (Fela!) stunning projection design.  These elements all came together under Wilson’s stunning direction - moving the entire piece with consistent ease and flow.  Not for one second, did any audience member realize that the piece is in fact almost three hours long, but rather felt excited - anticipating each new twist and turn!
As the presidential race takes America by force outside of the theatre, inside the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is truly no different.  This once in a life time cast delivers all of the stops as they bring the backhand deals of politics into the limelight.  Gore Vidal’s The Best Man is the not to be missed show of the season!

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