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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Beaverhausen on Broadway: Tom Hanks in "Lucky Guy"

Talk about synchronicity! Tom Hanks is now performing on Broadway, just down 44th Street from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co restaurant! Not only that, but I'm reading the Clive Davis memoir, Soundtrack of My Life, so who should I sit directly three rows behind? Clive Davis! You could have knocked me over with a shrimp ball!

As for the play, Lucky Guy, now at the Broadhurst Theater, I think it shares a modern sense of tragedy with the musical, Evita. It's the tragedy of our shared mortality, pure and simple. In classic Greek tragedy, nemesis is divine punishment that determines the fall or death of a character. And, in theater, both the biographical Lucky Guy and Evita implicitly view illness and death as a punishment for pride and arrogance; what the Greeks labeled hubris. (That's Greek for cheeky, people!)

Lucky Guy has a Greek chorus, too, via the heavy-drinking, tough-talking, mostly Irish-American, old-school, all-male tabloid newspaper journalists to whom this play is an homage. Problem is: too much Greek chorus storytelling and not enough dramatic exposition.

The acting is pretty solid, though, and the main attraction in Lucky Guy. I had no idea that Peter Scolari was in the cast! I guess he and Tom Hanks really are Bosom Buddies, long after their gender-bender tv series of that name got canceled after two seasons! Courtney B. Vance, Mr. Angela Bassett and star of stage, screen and tv, is outstanding in the role of New York Daily News editor, Hap Hairston. And Maura Tierney shines as Hanks' long-suffering wife, Alice. The rest of the cast, without exception, are crackerjack.

As for Tom Hanks, in his Broadway debut, he puts on a most kinetic performance, rarely off the stage or off the mark (literally as well as figuratively).  He assays the role of Mike McAlary (pronounced Mac-a-larry), Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, warts and all. It's a forceful performance, though when Hanks' character is learning to walk and talk again after a very serious car accident, he sounds like he's speaking with a Swedish accent rather than a speech impediment. Granted, there's a thin line between the two!

Written by the late film director/screenwriter, Nora Ephron -- whose background was in the world of journalism as depicted at the outset of this play -- the drama moves like a well-edited movie. I'm not sure that's totally a good thing for the stage, although she certainly has a lot of territory to cover involving McAlary's crazy life. Director George C. Wolfe and David Rockwell (Scenic Design) certainly convey the snap, crackle and pop necessary to carry this off.

The ultimate tragedy is that, by the time the ambitious, often ruthless McAlary gets his Pulitzer, he is dying of colon cancer. His death, as represented in Lucky Guy, is poignant though not tear-jerking.  Tragic -- but where's that Greek catharsis we need, crave and deserve?

The printed press has given Lucky Guy mostly positive reviews, perhaps because they relate to the milieu depicted more than the overall production. The New York Times loved it! Liz Smith called it a "triumph" in The Chicago Tribune! Clive Davis looked happy. Me? I'm heading over to Bubba Gump's.

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