Coward's Present Laughter, With Garber, Banes, Harris as Showbiz Family, Opens on Broadway
By Kenneth Jones
The new Broadway production of Noël Coward's 1942 comedy Present Laughter, starring Victor Garber as the vain, egotistical, aging star whose satellites are his devoted friends, lovers and business associates, opens Jan. 21.
Roundabout Theatre Company's staging at the American Airlines Theatre is directed by Nicholas Martin, and is inspired by Martin's 2007 Huntington Theatre Company production, which also starred Garber (Broadway's Sweeney Todd, Lend Me a Tenor, Arcadia, TV's "Alias") as graying matinee idol Garry Essendine.
Garry is the kind actor who has a mirror handy for quick touch-ups, and whose 1930s art-deco-style London home (designed at Roundabout by Alexander Dodge, who also designed in 2007) features a massive oil painting of him — as Hamlet, no less. He also likes the sound of his own voice, and the production includes Garber at a baby grand singing Coward's "World Weary," alone. (There's also a musical surprise at the curtain call.)
Previews for this limited engagement (through March 21) began Jan. 2.
Garber, a TV and film star seen on television's "Glee" and "Alias," was the original Anthony Hope in the musical Sweeney Todd on Broadway. The four-time Tony nominee also starred in Arcadia, Noises Off, Damn Yankees, Lend Me a Tenor and Little Me.
In the tradition of Hay Fever and Design for Living, this is one in a handful of Coward plays about an insular bohemian clan struggling internally but always bonding against the intrusion of outsiders. Garry's "family" includes Thoroughly Modern Millie Tony winner Harriet Harris (as longtime secretary Monica Reed), Lisa Banes (as Garry's wife Liz Essendine), Marc Vietor (as friend Morris Dixon), Richard Poe (as producer Henry Lypiatt), Pamela Jane Gray (as Henry's voracious wife, Joanna Lypiatt), Nancy E. Carroll (as Scandinavian maid Miss Erikson, one in a long line of funny Coward servants) and James Joseph O'Neil (as valet Fred). The intruders in the Essendine world are Fame Becomes Me Tony nominee Brooks Ashmanskas (as a star-struck, caffeinated young playwright Roland Maule), Alice Duffy (as Lady Saltburn), Holley Fain (as climbing ingénue Daphne Stillington, Lady Saltburn's niece). The company also includes Peter Bradbury, Kathleen McElfresh, Robin Moseley and Nicole Orth-Pallavicini.
According to Roundabout, "In Noël Coward's classic comedy, matinee idol Garry Essendine (Garber) sits at the center of his own universe. While Garry struggles to plan his upcoming trip to Africa, his elegant London flat is invaded by a love-struck ingénue, an adulterous producer and a married seductress, not to mention Garry's estranged wife and a crazed young playwright. Just before Garry escapes, the full extent of his misdemeanors is discovered and all hell breaks loose."
The three-act play is set in the 1930s.
The design team includes Alexander Dodge (sets), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Rui Rita (lights), Drew Levy (sound),Tom Watson (hair and wig). Stephen M. Kaus is production stage manager, Jamie Greathouse is stage manager.
Coward's plays include Blithe Spirit, Private Lives, Design for Living, Hay Fever, The Vortex, Cavalcade, Tonight at 8:30 and more.
Present Laughter plays Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8 PM with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 PM.
Tickets are available by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org or at the American Airlines box office (227 West 42nd Street).
Ticket prices range from $66.50 to $116.50.
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