Monday, September 28, 2009

More Broadway Bows For Royal Family

More Broadway Bows For Royal Family

When I first learned that theatrical royalty Rosemary Harris would take part in Doug Hughes’ Great White Way revival of The Royal Family this season, I felt more than just a little twinge of excitement. In fact, a tidal wave of thrills cascaded over me.

It wasn’t just because Harris’ casting heralded her long overdue return to Broadway after ten long years (and with it, my first time to see this stage legend tread the boards). It was also in knowing that I’d see Harris performing -- for the second time in her lengthy Broadway career -- as a member of the fictional, first family of theatre created by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber in 1927, and thus, creating a little added stage history in the process.

The English-born Harris first appeared in a Rialto production all the way back in 1952's The Climate of Eden and has since appeared in 23 other productions. Nominated for eight Tony Awards through the years, Harris earned her one and only honor portraying Eleanor in The Lion in Winter (1966).

The latest incarnation of The Royal Family being staged, this time at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, marks the fourth Main Stem outing for the Cavendish clan. What’s truly remarkable about Harris’ participation is that she now lays claim to being in two of those four productions, having earned a Tony nomination for Best Actress in the last revival produced at the Helen Hayes Theatre during the final hours of 1975 and first seven months of 1976.

Then, under former husband Ellis Rabb’s Tony-winning direction, Harris took on the role of Julie Cavendish, daughter of Fanny as portrayed by Eva Le Gallienne. Julie’s brother Tony, Aunt Kitty and Uncle Herbert were played by, respectively, the late great George Grizzard, Mary Louise Wilson and Joseph Maher. Rabb’s revival lasted 233 performances.

Now, in the 2009 revival, Harris takes on the play’s matriarch Fanny to Jan Maxwell’s Julie, Reg Rogers’ Tony, Ana Gasteyer’s Kitty and John Glover’s Herbert. Tony Roberts, Larry Pine and Freddy Arsenault are also in the cast.

The initial revival for The Royal Family clocked in at 15 performances at the City Center in January 1951. Its cast included Ruth Hussey as Julie, Ethel Griffies as Fanny, John Emery as Tony, Olive Blakeney as Kitty, Bernard Nadell as Herbert and even a younger Ossie Davis as Jo.

As noted above, The Royal Family was originally mounted on the Great White Way back in 1927 -- the same year motion pictures became “talkies” – opening at Broadway’s Selwyn Theatre on December 28, 1927. Under David Burton’s direction, the thee act play starred Ann Andrews as Julie, Haidee Wright as Fanny, Otto Kruger as Tony, Catherine Calhoun Doucet as Kitty and Orlando Daly as Herbert. The play was such a tremendous success that it ran for 345 performances through October 1928.

Could it be that this latest revival will be a Royal flush with success? With Harris leading a superb ensemble, as well as reportedly lavish scenic and costume designs from John Lee Beatty and Catherine Zuber, respectively, perhaps it’s no wonder the initial buzz I’m hearing from previews is already extraordinarily favorable.

The limited run for The Royal Family opens October 8, and I’ll provide my SOB Review shortly thereafter.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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4 Comments:

At 28 September, 2009, Blogger Kevin Daly said...

I was lucky enough to attend an early preview, and while they were still ironing out kinks found the production to be in pretty good shape. Harris is fantastic, with an especially haunting moment in the third act. Maxwell steals the show, especially with her breathtaking execution of a monologue in act 2 that left me agape as the lights came up for intermission! I want to see it again!!

 
At 28 September, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

I was a bit on the fence about this, especially since MTC's last 1930s play, Accent on Youth, got such lousy reviews. But I think I'm going to take the plunge after hearing the reviews from Kevin and some of my other blogging buds. It's not every day you get to see someone of the stature of Rosemary Harris.

Plus, I'd love to see Tony Roberts on stage. Did you know that Annie Hall is one of my favorite movies?! Did you? ;-)

 
At 28 September, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Kevin,

Thanks for the endorsement - yours is certainly one of those preliminary word-of-mouth buzzes I was discussing. Along with Rosemary Harris, I can't wait to see Jan Maxwell again!

Steve

 
At 28 September, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther,

I've seen plenty of great plays produced by MTC - most recently Ruined at their Off-Broadway venue. It was excellent.

Like you, I trust Kevin Daly up above here.

And yes, I remember vividly how "Annie Hall" is one of your favorite pictures. You must catch Tony Roberts on stage!

Steve

 

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