Daniel Swee is casting director for Lincoln Center Theatre and for the revival of Golden Boy at the Belasco on Broadway, he has helped the management and director Bartlett Sher assemble a sterling company of some nineteen actors to populate Clifford Odets’ stinging drama, not seen on Broadway since its short run of 55 performances in 1952.
The original production in 1937 put the Group Theatre, which produced it, on the map. It established Odets as a major American playwright, and gave employment to the majority of the Group Theatre’s acting company, offering roles to Luther Adler, Morris Carnovsky, Frances Farmer, Phoebe Brand and Lee J.Cobb right on down to a very young John Garfield and Elia Kazan in strong support.
This time out the play seems totally relevant in that it deals with the choices we make in pursuing our paths of life. Joe Bonaparte is a poor kid from a decent family in New York City, in the midst of the depression. He’s a gifted violinist and has been offered encouraging scholarships to continue his studies. But one day, when he accepts a challenge to step in for an indisposed welter weight boxer, he finds himself mixed in with a group of tough guy fight speculators who tempt him with prospects of fame and fortune. His father is opposed, but unable to prevail, as the mistress of the leader of the mob is used to throw herself at Joe. He falls for her, and ultimately she for him as well. This creates mayhem, and the play becomes a Faustian fable which leads to a “Thelma and Louise” finale that is as inevitable as it is disturbing.
The play on occasion verges on melodrama, but for the most part, the characters are clearly drawn with all their complexities, and the story unfolds with enough surprises to hold us firmly in its grip right up to its very moving conclusion.
It’s played beautifully by an ensemble of familiar names and those newer to the scene, all of whom are totally committed to breathing life into Odets’ colorful and beautifully drawn characters. Seth Numrich, who plays the Golden Boy Joe Bonaparte, is a virtually new face on Broadway. He has a varied background in theatre off Broadway and in the regionals, but his casting in the leading role is typical of the kind of authentic casting done by Daniel Swee, André Bishop and Bernard Gersten at Lincoln Center with much credit in this instance as well to Bartlett Sher as director.
Tony Shalhoub, one of the most recognizable names in the company, is brilliantly transformed into Mr. Bonaparte, the Italian immigrant whose future happiness is so connected to his boy and the choices he makes.
Danny Mastrogiorgio and Yvonne Strahovski (you know her from this season’s “Dexter”) – now there’s a pair whose names in lights would light up the sky! – as Tom Moody and his woman Lorna Moon, both from backgrounds far from Times Square, deliver sharp and exciting characterizations of the devil’s disciples, out to use Joe Bonaparte for their own profit and purpose.
Danny Burstein, whose work in the recent revivals of Follies and South Pacific turned him from a useful character actor into a star, brings new life to “Tokio”, Joe’s boxing trainer. Jonathan Hadary, who was so good in the recent revival of Odets’ Awake and Sing!, delivers his authentic take on “Mr. Carp”, a neighbor and friend of the Bonapartes, and hand delivers some of Odets’ one line zingers that are colorful and funny.
The play itself is firmly rooted in the traditions of its day — it is in 3 acts, is almost 3 hours long. It might be a tad less comfortable for today’s audiences more accustomed to 90 minute wonders, but it was rewarding to see it done as Mr. Odets intended it to be — a rich plum cake of a play with something on its mind, served up in a most absorbing and entertaining package, here captured by the Lincoln Center Theatre in a dream production that remembers its mandate to supply New York with the finest in quality entertainment.
Golden Boy is onstage through January 20, 2013 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street (Between Broadway and 6th Avenue), NYC. Details and tickets.
Richard Seff, who, in his more than 60 year career on Broadway as a performer, agent, writer, and librettist, has recently written the book for Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical!, which debuted at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is also author of Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrating his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes, available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com. Read more at RichardSeff.com
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