Let it not be said that, whatever the turbulent fortunes of Swell Smell of Success, the show's stars John Lithgow and Brian d'Arcy James have lost their senses of humor. At the April 1 evening performance of the Broadway musical, the actors seemed to take a page from the lives of their characters and became "enemies to the teeth" (to use a Sydney Falco phrase from the 1957 film), before revealing that their fury was part of an elaborate April Fool's joke.
Through Act One of the new Marvin Hamlisch-Craig Carnelia-John Guare musical, cast and crew sensed an off-stage coolness between Lithgow and James, who play, respectively, powerful columnist J.J. Hunsecker and the sycophantic press agent Sydney Falco. Hitherto, the acting duo had been known as the best of pals. But as the first act curtain rang down, they began spewing epithets at each other, punctuating their argument with some pushing and shoving.
According to reports, the ensemble was completely taken in and scattered as the sparring thespians retired to continue their tussle in Lithgow's dressing room. It was only when the show's production supervisor tried to intervene that the two broke into peals of laughter and cried "April Fool's!"
Lithgow and James then took their places for the beginning of Act Two, which begins with, yes, a fight between Hunsecker and Falco.
The musical opened on Broadway March 14. Tickets range $26-$96. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.