I arrived in chilly New York City on a Saturday night. After an interesting driving experience through the city and learning to navigate the numerous one-way streets, my party managed to find our hotel, realize it was primarily French-speaking (!), and then proceed to unload everything in quick fashion and begin our New York adventure.
First on the list: scope out the Barrymore Theatre in Times Square. Then we revised the list: Purchase Metro cards and then scope out the Barrymore Theatre. A little FYI for everyone who's going and will be traveling by metro, there's a subway stop right at 50th street, which puts you a mere three blocks away from the theatre. And there's a Starbucks right on the corner near the theatre, perfect for that pre-show mocha!
But moving on.... I got to see the show on a Thursday night, and it was a blast from the time I got there to the time I left. First off, you have to know that the Barrymore Theatre is absolutely gorgeous! It's tucked away right off of Times Square on 47th Street in a cozy setting and one ideally suited for Sly Fox. The glass doors of the theatre are outlined in gold. It's just so absolutely classy. It definitely has the "old school" Broadway feel to it.
As soon as I walked through the glass doors, my eyes fell on the cast list, situated alphabetically against the right wall. I'm pretty sure this is standard fare for most shows, but this was the first time I'd ever seen that done, and I thought it was pretty darn cool.
Like I said, the theater, which an usher told me had recently gone through renovations, is so beautiful. It's a smaller theater, which I think helps bring the audience closer to the production, both physically and emotionally. There are box seats along the upper walls, and a large chandelier hangs from the ceiling, which is a stark contrast to the theme of red which covers the theater, from stage curtains to seats. Because of its size, the audience can almost touch noses with the stage. It's fantastic. I have never been that close to the stage before. And it really makes a difference in seeing the show.
Having arrived rather early, I got to listen to those around me and enjoy theater-goers' conversations. It was particularly amusing to hear people read through the cast list and get to René's name. Inevitably, I'd hear "René. . ." and then listen as they tried to pronounce his last name. Amusing, believe me. But as soon as they got done mangling it, they'd mention one of his shows to the person sitting next to them. "You know him, he was in Benson," or "René. Remember? He did City of Angels."
It was interesting to note the vast demographic in the audience. There were people there wearing furs, others in jeans, senior citizens and then middle-aged folks. There weren't a whole lot of young people, but I did notice the two teenagers sitting across from me were sporting Dance of the Vampires shirts. René fans? I bet they were!
When the curtain went up at 8 p.m., I was more than ready to see Sly Fox. The cast list was impressive and not just because Richard Dreyfuss headlines the show. Eric Stoltz, who many probably remember from his semi-recent turn as August Dimitri on Once and Again, as well as his extensive filmography and television appearances, stars opposite Mr. Dreyfuss and to me, the rest of the cast list read like a list of childhood television favorites-Bronson Pinchot from Perfect Strangers and Bosom Buddies, Peter Scolari and Elizabeth Berkely from Saved By the Bell. Of course, there's Bob Dishy and Professor Irwin Corey. And a personal favorite was Rachel York, who also appeared with René in City of Angels.
The show got off to a slow start, but quickly found its footing and pace within the first 10 minutes. Now, I don't want to spoil it for anybody, so I won't give away too much. But the premise is this: Foxwell J. Sly is a con artist who runs his scam by pretending to be on his deathbed. Conveniently, he has no children or wife, thus he has no heir for the vast fortune he has amassed. The scam is simple. He gets his "friends" to bring him their most valuable possession-gold-in order to be named his heir. In with him on the scam is his trusted servant, Simon Able, who serves as a liaison between the deathly ill Sly and his oh-so-greedy friends.
The wit of Larry Gelbart, who authored the play, is superb, and Dreyfuss's ability to draw the crowd to him so quickly is a testament to the man's skill. Sly is a con man, driven by greed, but you quickly find yourself rooting for him, which is heavily influenced by Sly's so-called friends.
Bob Dishy, as Mr. Trunkle, is hilarious. Sly's death can't come fast enough for him, and he'll stop at nothing to get to the old codger's fortune, both evidenced by his not-so-subtle suggestion of poisoning and subsequent gift of his young and very pious wife.
And then, of course, there's René! In my opinion, everything René does is golden, but in this role, he's absolutely perfect. It's such a joy to watch him do comedy. And as Mr. Crouch, he's a comical riot. He hobbles on stage midway through Act One, and from then on, it's a hilarious ride. His portrayal of this crotchety old man who has outlived all of his friends and is driven solely by greed is spot on. He cackles with glee, gloats over his longevity, and even gets some quality stage time with a San Francisco madam.
For those of you who will get to see the show, definitely keep your eyes open during the scene in Crouch's store. You will be amused. I don't want to give away any secrets, because you have to see it to truly appreciate it, but that scene alone will have you falling out of your seat. I still chuckle when I think about it, and the audience was rolling. They couldn't contain their laughter when I saw it.
Out of everything, I think I enjoyed the courtroom scene in Act Two the most. The comedy really comes to life there and the whole company gets in on the action. There are a lot of unexpected moments there, and during the performance you could see the performers were really having fun with it. I was pretty sure I saw Rachel York trying to hide a smile during one of the more "spirited" moments which involved Bronson Pinchot scrambling for her skirt. I don't know if that was planned or not, but it definitely got a laugh from me.
Another great thing about the courtroom scene is that Richard Dreyfuss does double duty. He's the judge who presides over the proceedings. And just to let you know how good he is, it took me a full five minutes before I realized that it was him was up there. He lays the accent on thick and hams it up. It was delightful! And Professor Irwin Corey as the court reporter was absolutely wonderful. He didn't have too many lines, but his comic timing was dead on.
My only complaints, and they're small, are that, at times, Elizabeth Berkely and Eric Stoltz felt a little stiff in their roles. It could be because this is Berkely's first appearance on Broadway, and she's probably still getting the kinks out. I'd like to see a little more realism from her. Her part is comedic, but it felt like I was watching Elizabeth Berkely and not Mrs. Trunkle. I'll wager that will most likely be ironed out when the show starts in April.
Eric Stoltz needs to do a little more work in convincing me that he's Simon Able. Don't get me wrong. He's very good most of the time, but there were a few moments when I felt he was just reciting his lines, rather than bringing them to life.
I saw the show during previews, which is a time to get things figured out and decide how it's going to be. I envy those of you going in April and later. You're in for a great treat, not only from René, but from a very talented cast of notable actors!