Stop the presses! Nathan Lane, John Slattery and John Goodman are just three of the big names on stage in a swell revival of the frenetic comedy “The Front Page,” now on the boards at The Broadhurst Theatre.
Written nearly a century ago by former newspapermen Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, “The Front Page” was the basis for “His Girl Friday,” the classic screwball film starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
Broadway’s grand-looking new production, helmed by Jack O’Brien (“It’s Only a Play”), is split into three acts: Each begins and ends with a bang, in this case the popping of a camera flash illuminating in relief whomever happens to be on stage.
With so many characters to introduce, it takes a while for “The Front Page” to hit its stride. Lane, the top-billed star as foul-mouthed editor Walter Burns, doesn’t make his entrance until the end of the second act, more than 90 minutes in, when things really pick up.
Before then, we meet the motley reporters in the press room of the Chicago Criminal Courts Building, who are panting with anticipation over the impending execution of a cop killer. When the convict escapes, scurrilous Chicago Examiner journos Hildy Johnson (Slattery) and Burns find themselves with the proverbial scoop of a lifetime.
Lane is in classic form as a single-minded editor with a heart of ice—a guy who knows a local exclusive will sell more papers than a story about a million people killed in an earthquake on the other side of the Pacific. He earns serious guffaws for a bit where he tries, and fails, to move a roll-top desk across the press room.
We need only wait a beat for the laughter when Slattery, of AMC’s “Mad Men,” tells his colleagues that he’s giving up newspapers for an advertising job in Manhattan. Like Lane, he’s adept with the physical comedy, and seems to be having a great time.
Goodman doesn’t fare quite as well in a one-note role as the sheriff whose ineptitude allows killer Earl Williams (John Magaro) to flee. The big gold star he wears on his chest underscores his character’s cartoonishness.
Jefferson Mays (“Oslo”) is hysterical as the germ-a-phobe reporter and aspiring poet in the press room. It’s good to see fine actor Dann Florek as the mayor who is more concerned with his reputation than justice.
Micah Stock, as an oafish cop named Woodenshoes, mimes his Tony-nominated coat check attendant from “It’s Only a Play,” with similar success. There is enormous love for Robert Morse (“How to Succeed…” on stage and screen, and “Mad Men”), who appears in a couple of brief scenes as an easily befuddled courier.
Like the industry it satirizes, “The Front Page” shows its age: The cast is jarringly lily white. Women are an afterthought—Halley Feiffer, as Hildy’s fiancée, Peggy, lives to serve her betrothed. Both Holland Taylor (as Peggy’s interfering mother) and Sherie Rene Scott (as an absolute loon in love with the murderer) meet ignominious, if somehow not fatal ends.
But, the pros in “The Front Page” know how to manage the material and deliver an ink-stained good time. This is a period piece that hearkens back to a time when reporters carried flasks and an HR rep would be tossed out a window if she introduced a dialogue about harassment or proper workplace behavior.
“The Front Page,” through Jan. 29, 2017 at The Broadhurst Theatre. Tickets: Starting at $104.72. Call 212-239-6200.
Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn