Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Boeing-Boeing (The SOB Review)

Boeing-Boeing (The SOB Review) - Longacre Theatre, New York, NY

*** (out of ****)

Looking for the funniest, laugh-out-loud comedy currently on the Great White Runway?

Look no further than Broadway's Longacre Theatre where almost in spite of itself, Boeing-Boeing has touched down for what looks to be a lengthy layover. It's a mostly fantastic, high-flying farce.

In a season already filled with plenty of this genre, from the frivolous (The Ritz) to the fraught (November) to the fanciful (Is He Dead?), one would be forgiven for thinking audiences would have had enough of the fare. And to be frank, I wondered how New Yorkers would respond to a revival of such a dated show, which originally closed on Broadway almost as quickly as it opened back in February 1965.

But with Claire van Kampen's groovy selection of sixties tunes setting the mood, supplemented by Rob Howell's ingenious red, yellow and blue set and costume designs that are artfully augmented by Hugh Vanstone's complementary lighting, it's clear from take-off that this is going to be a first-class flight.

Written by Marc Camoletti (translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans), Boeing-Boeing has a fairly simple, silly plot. Bernard (Bradley Whitford) is a swinging American bachelor living in Paris who's simultaneously balancing three stewardess, er, flight attendant fiancées -- Kathryn Hahn as TWA's Gloria, Gina Gershon as Alitalia's Gabriella and Mary McCormack as Lufthansa's Gretchen -- all with the help of a good old-fashioned OAG (yes, they still print them). Bernard relies on the OAG's schedules to help him keep track of when his ladies would be in and out of his love nest.

Fortunately for Bernard, he has a cunningly complicit French maid Berthe (Christine Baranski). In a delightful shellgame, whenever it's time for a shift change, Berthe wheels out a special cart with three color-coded boxes to ensure that there's no trace of the last female companion left for the next one to find.

Of course, as one would expect of any farce, all these best intentions come perilously close to crashlanding. Soon after Bernard's friend Robert (Mark Rylance) unexpectedly comes calling from Wisconsin, the women in Bernard's life, quite predictably, all end up back at the Paris apartment at the same time. Not even a schedule manifest can predict turned-around and canceled flights.

As absurd as the storyline is, Matthew Warchus portentously propels this Boeing-Boeing to a new altitude with a turbocharged cruising speed that left me breathless from laughing. Much of the marvelous mirth comes from watching Rylance do his best to create diversions for his buddy Bernard's girlfriends, finding himself mirroring his friend's lust for life just a little too closely. It's hard to believe that this Shakespearean actor could be so capable of slapstick comedy, but in his Broadway debut, he's proving to be a worthy master. This is truly his show.

Nearly as wonderful is Baranski's wickedly funny take as Berthe. In her first Broadway outing since 1991's short-lived Nick & Nora, this talented actress demonstrates a propensity for broad comic relief, whether it's with an exaggerated roll of her eyes or via her deadpan, droll response.

Regrettably, I can't say the same for Whitford. As a man wrestling to maintain his harem, he certainly gets all of the agitated nerves down pat. Yet they come along just a bit too soon, almost as if he's never flown before. And if you're going to have the testicular fortitude to balance three fiancées at once, you'd better have more than a bag full of nuts and nerves of steel before ever taxiing down the runway.

Among the array of assembled space waitresses, McCormack plays her Gretchen so over the top, I half expected oxygen masks to drop. As shockingly funny as she often is, I just wasn't buying her as a bona fide love interest for Bernard. Hahn's gumsmacking American is played much more credibly, but it's Gershon who wins the day with her glorious Gabriella -- this is the best I've ever seen her and it's hard not to fall for her.

Despite the wildly mixed performances, Boeing-Boeing is about the wildest ride on Broadway. Fasten your seatbelts!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
And The Tony Nominees Go To... (May 12, 2008)
Whoopi! Tony Eligibility And More Handicapping (May 9, 2008)
Did Boeing-Boeing Have Critics Flying High? (May 5, 2008)
Opening: Boeing-Boeing Lands On Great White Way (May 4, 2008)
Is It Just Me, Or... (Part III) (January 22, 2008)
Boeing-Boeing To Touch Down On Great White Way (September 17, 2007)
Was De La Tour's Latest A Tour De Force With Critics? (February 17, 2007)
London's Boeing-Boeing Flies Into Opening Night (February 15, 2007)

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At 21 May, 2008, Blogger Kevin Daly said...

"Nick & Nora"? Really. My goodness, with all the events, off-Broadway and regional theater she's done, it never occurred she hadn't officially been back on Broadway in 17 years.

Thank goodness she is.

At 21 May, 2008, Blogger karigee said...

That does it! buying my ticket now...

At 21 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

TAAL: Full disclosure here, I'm a huge Baranski fan. Although her Mame never made it beyond Washington DC, I'm glad I made the trek to our nation's capital to see her splendid performance in it.

At 21 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Kari, The added bonus is that the British Mark Rylance actually has a perfect Wisconsin accent which if not quite Portage might be a bit Baraboo! (After all, this show is practically a circus.)

Perhaps he honed his accent by attending Milwaukee's tony University School.

At 21 May, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Testicular fortitude? A bag full of nuts? This does sound like fun! And I've read so many great things about Mark Rylance's performance. What about the beautifully restored Longcare Theatre? It looks nice from the pictures I've seen.

At 21 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, It was a sincere pleasure sitting in that theatre. Very comfy and intimate.

I might add for my friends on the other side of the pond where this revival got its start that the beautifully restored Longacre specifically does not, I repeat not serve any alcoholic beverages before the show or during the interval (intermission).

At 21 May, 2008, Blogger Dale said...

This was one of my shows to see last weekend but Gypsy elbowed it out after I'd committed to The Country Girl and Xanadu. I'm glad it was so funny as it had the potential to crash land pretty hard!

At 22 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dale, Give Warchus credit for turning what could be (should be) a tired farce into something much better.


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