Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lucky to See Hanks

Print is a dying art, but those that are journalist love what they do more than anything in their lives.

That is sort of the theme I walked away with after seeing Broadway’s Lucky Guy: Nora Ephron’s final nod to a business she was a part of for many years and the last thing she wrote before passing away.

You can’t attend this show without speaking about seeing an amazing ensemble. And I do mean ensemble. Yes, Tom Hanks is the main character. He never leaves the stage. He gives a performance like…well, like Tom Hanks: the lovable actor we all crave in movies. The man that can win you with a smile or a lilt in his voice, no matter the character he is playing. 

But this IS an ensemble with everyone taking a bow together at show’s end. For me, Courtney B. Vance is pure magic and I couldn’t take my eyes from him while on stage. So wonderful to see him back on Broadway. He made a splash in the 80s in the play Fences with James Earl Jones and has mastered quite a career since. The stage is full of movie and television personalities including: Richard Masur which has done everything from One Day at A Time to one that has always stayed with me from the early 80s Fallen Angel, Christopher McDonald most recently from Harry’s Law (but he’ll always be Goose from Grease 2 to me), Maura Tierney from ER and NewsRadio, and Hanks’ other Bosom Buddy Peter Scolari along with a fine group of other stage and film actors. (Stephen Tyron Williams makes his Broadway debut in a five minute scene playing Abner Louima and blew me away.)

These actors took what many reviewers have felt is not the best script (though most are afraid to dwell on that because it is Ms. Ephron’s final work and she is not here to defend it), and created full blown characters. That alone is worth the admission if you are an actor looking to hone your craft. You get an evening of witnessing what it means to create a story that is not on the page. Something actors must always do and all of these fine people did a wonderful job with it; some better than others…but that is the nature of the size of their roles. (Insert ‘no such thing is a small part, only small actors’ here.)

George C. Wolfe is one of those directors I absolutely admire and I love what he has done with this cinematic script. And it is. It is written and cut like a movie. The action doesn’t stop. We move from one setting to another – quickly. (And I’ll admit I love that as I’ve been told I tend to write plays in that fashion: not the standard one living room set and everyone enters and plays their scenes there.) We are inundated with the smell of herbal cigarettes as everyone smokes. A newsroom in the late 80s: you couldn’t get away from it. (Sometimes Peter Scolari’s job is actually to stay on stage and smoke to continue to fill the stage.)

What we don’t get much of is a story that makes us feel something. It all comes at you so quickly and if you are not part of that life, you may be glancing at your watch (which I saw people next to me doing). In Ephron’s attempt to shed light on the real life story of Mike McAlary who jumped jobs from newspaper to newspaper in the 80s and 90s and who won the Pulitzer Prize before his death on Christmas Day in 1998, we end up with a bio-drama that feels more like a documentary that is just giving us the facts. When the show would stop for a moment and allow the characters to have a scene, I felt I could breathe and settle into the show. But then we were off and running to get through about 15 years of his life. Critics seem to dislike Act II and yet – I found it to be the one that had the most heart: possibly because we got more dialogue and scenes and less of one of the actors spitting out exposition to the audience in the form of a “newsboy headline cry”. 

McAlary had many moments in his life that could have been explored in play form (and actually another play on him ran off-Broadwayin 2011). He was a controversial man that infuriated many with his style, demeanor and especially his coverage of rape victim Jane Doe. But this incarnation of his life feels like an attempt to turn an everyman into a hero – as quickly as possible. To do so, you skim over his life and you cast the most famous everyman that people adore: Tom Hanks.
Why We Love Hanks

It is Hanks that makes me feel for McAlary towards the end of his life. And yet, I’m not sure if I were feeling for McAlary or just caught up in the glory that is witnessing Tom Hanks mesmerize us with another fine performance.

You go to the theater. You tell me how lucky McAlary was or if you feel lucky for snatching up tickets. And then come back and let me know your thoughts on it.


  1. Sharp, insightful points. Especially the last two paragraphs.

    1. You are too kind, Bobby! Thank you. (If only I had seen it with you...YOU could have gotten us backstage to see Mr. Hanks! Last night, you had to give $1500 to Equity Fights AIDS to get to see him.) ;)

  2. What a cast! It is always a blurred line when a life is written about and then portrayed (how much is the writing? How much is the actors portrayal? The facts may be correct but the essence is totally up for interpretation) It sounds like an amazing cast! I bet you could watch this cast read the phone book and it would be compelling! ha! Thanks for the thoughtful review!

    1. Thanks so much! Appreciate your comment. (And you are so right about interpretation on stage.)