PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: A Fun Run for Fools' Gold at Sly Fox

By Harry Haun
02 Apr 2004

From Top: Eric Stoltz, Ayal Midovnik and Rachel York, Polly Bergen, Eli Wallach and Lee Grant, David Stone, and Jennifer Beals
From Top: Eric Stoltz, Ayal Midovnik and Rachel York, Polly Bergen, Eli Wallach and Lee Grant, David Stone, and Jennifer Beals
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

There being no fool like an old fool, it was quite apt that the second Broadway coming of Sly Fox fell on April Fool's Day.

Stars were out in full force Thursday, on stage and on the other side of the footlights. The after party at Tavern on the Green only brought the kilowatts up more so you could see the celebs glowing. A press room just beyond the entrance smoothly accommodated the parade of name brand players and the fourth-estate, ever-ready to photograph and report.

Richard Dreyfuss — or Duddy Kravitz gone west and rustic — led the stage merriment as a particularly miserable, miserly case in point: an unworthy named Foxwell J. Sly, who fleeces his "best" (read: greediest) friends with a protracted and totally faux death scene.

George C. Scott and Robert Preston worked the same ruse in the comedy's previous incarnation in 1977 and 1978, Bert Lahr pranced out a musical version (Foxy), Rex Harrison did the movie edition ("The Honey Pot"), and scads of others have impersonated the cad in the 398 years since Ben Jonson first created him and christened him Volpone.

Five cases of deja vu were reported on this latest reentry alone: Adapter Larry Gelbart, the "M*A*S*H" man, tinkered some with his original script; director Arthur Penn instilled a frenetic clip on a whole new cast, save one (that one being the lone Tony nominee from the original starry production, Bob Dishy, who still does a hilarious high-wire act of a man vacillating between jealousy and sacrificing his young wife to Fox for the loot). The costumes of Albert Wolsky and the sets of George Jenkins were deemed re doable, too.



It was one of those opening nights where the audience was all-accepting, and even the visible gaffs got laughs. One could stop a girl from sashaying: Rachel York, who played (by way of Mae West) Dreyfuss' wannabe fiancee, looked spectacular in Wolsky's bustled-to-hustle period-piece costumes but had a little negotiation problem in the second act, catching the tail of her dress in the door on her way out. "With those big bustles," York said, "you can't even turn around, and I had to exit onto this one square-foot platform, and it takes lots of technique to get through there." A stage manager finally extricated her.

Then there was a computerized set that belched a bit after it completed the scene change. Dreyfuss, Dishy and Eric Stoltz, who plays Dreyfuss' not-entirely trusty manservant, were doing a scene in Dreyfuss' freshly restored and swirled-into-place bedroom when the set, on its own, moved a few more inches into place. The never napping Dishy looked skyward and startled as if Frisco's '03 quake had come early — and did it again when the set jumped again as he was exiting. "Inspired moments like that are what actors love," he said later. "When you have to do a show eight times a week, it can't always be inspired."

Dreyfuss and Stoltz manfully maintained their composure through this but were bright-faced about it. "The set was just possessed," groused Dreyfuss gleefully. "When those things happen, it's just out of your hands. It's better than forgetting your lines."

Mishaps like that are always happening with a show as complex as this, said Stoltz. "Last night I went to pull the rope to call the servants, and the rope came off in my hands," he said, just for instance. He rather likes his status of relative sanity in the zany proceedings. "I'm essentially the straight man in it, ushering in all these wonderfully wacky characters. It keeps me in shape because I'm running around the stage all the time. I'm like the stuffed rabbit who runs ahead of the dogs. They keep chasing it, and I have to keep running."

Director Penn, who had a short commute home after the party (he lives directly across the street from Tavern on the Green), felt that, of the 10 shows that he brought to Broadway, Sly Fox was the one that bore repeating. "I just thought this was a show that would fit the times," he explained. "We got Enron out there, we got Tyco out there. There's a lot of greed out there. It was just so appropriate I couldn't resist the chance to stage it again."

Gelbart gives Penn full credit for greenlighting the revival. "I never thought it would get done again," he admitted. "It kinda enjoys a good life in subsidiaries with colleges and summer stock, but the idea of doing it again on Broadway was Arthur's and [lead producer] Julian Schlossberg's. And I know a good idea when I hear someone say it."

At intermission he was spotted on a cellphone, calling in the results of the first act. "I was calling my wife at the Melrose Hotel. She was too ill to attend tonight." (His wife of 47 years is stage actress-singer Patricia Marshall, remembered for the "Good News" movie.)

Like Penn, an agile 81, Gelbart is brimming with Broadway prospects. A Star Is Born is gone with the wind, he says, "but Cy Coleman and I just did a show with Marilyn and Alan Bergman on the coast which we call Like Jazz — and, yes, we're changing the title. It had a very successful limited run at the Mark Taper Forum so we're fixing that up. It's a musical revue. I'm writing the stuff in between songs. I want to do a book, too. If I lived anywhere near the New York City limits, I would have done two or three more by now." Continued...