Slamming doors and plates of sardines were all I could recall from the last time I saw Noises Off, and that’s a good summary of the third Broadway production of Michael Frayn’s slapstick backstage farce about an inept cast putting on a terrible play. There are just two other essential ingredients.
One is the impressive nine-member cast, made up of the best of Broadway today, sturdy go-to performers whose talent and charisma place them in sharp contrast to the bumbling actors they are portraying. Most of them during the course of Noises Off get to take at least one magnificently choreographed tumble. (Lorenzo Pisoni is listed in the credits as the “comedy stunt coordinator.”)
The other vital ingredient in this production of Noises Off is the roar of the crowd. I can’t remember ever hearing laughter at a higher sustained volume for any show on Broadway. It must be almost heartwarming to share in the hilarity in a closed space; such a reaction en masse is just a slightly alienating experience for those of us who can’t help viewing this three-decade-old farce as little more than The Three Stooges with a British accent.
More production photos at NewYorkTheater.me
It is not just the accents (dialect consultant: Elizabeth Smith) that make the play British. The play-within-the-play is an “English sex farce” entitled Nothing On, written by Robin Housemonger, a former “unsuccessful gents hosiery salesman” whose previous hits include Socks Before Marriage, “which ran on the West End for nine years,” Briefs Encounter, and Hanky Panky. This, anyway, is what we learn from the fake program for Nothing On that is inserted in the real program for Noises Off, a clue that what we are seeing on stage is in part a pointed parody of a (sorry) staple of British theater, largely unfamiliar to American audiences.
In Act I, we meet the cast of Nothing On (and Noises Off) going through a final run-through before their big provincial opening. A washed-up television star named Dotty (Andrea Martin, who won her second and well-deserved Tony as the acrobatic geriatric in Pippin) portrays a maid, although Dotty is indeed dotty, confused by which prop to pick up when. Her props — the telephone, the newspaper and especially that plate of sardines – will be the tools of increasingly convoluted comic business throughout Noises Off.
Act II takes place during a performance of Nothing On during its tour a month later, in which we get a literal backstage view of the Nothing On performers (the set is designed by Derek McLane with his usual efficiency and effectiveness.) We learn that the sexual shenanigans of the characters on stage of Nothing On have their precise parallel among the performers of Nothing On, with a series of love triangles we glimpse backstage. Brooke (Megan Hilty, everybody’s favorite Marilyn Monroe in Smash) is a dumb sexy blonde playing a dumb sexy blonde.
Sexual shenanigans have their consequences, as we see in Act III, when various performers take their revenge, and chaos reigns. The doltish stage manager Tim (Rob McClure, who made a splash as Broadway’s Charlie Chaplin and went on to star in Honeymoon in Vegas) is forced to take on a role onstage for a missing cast member; his jitters would not be out of place in Saturday morning cartoon.
Such proscenium pandemonium requires precise coordination, and director Jeremy Herrin is clearly up to the task, although Noises Off as his second foray on Broadway is in startling contrast to his Broadway debut – which was Wolf Hall.
Noises Off is on stage at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater through March 6, 2016.
Tickets and Details
Noises Off by Michael Frayn . Directed by Jeremy Herrin . Cast: Andrea Martin (Dotty) Campbell Scott (Lloyd Dallas the director) Tracee Chimo (Poppy Norton-Taylor), Megan Hilty (Brooke Ashton), Rob McClure (Tim Allgood), Jeremy Shamos (Frederick Fellowes), David Furr (Garry Lejeune), Daniel Davis (Selsdon Mowbray), Kate Jennings Grant (Belinda Blair) . Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Michael Krass; Lighting Design by Jane Cox; Sound Design by Christopher Cronin; Hair and Wig Design by Paul Huntley . Produced by Roundabout Theatre Company.