There were two very distinct types of first-nighters attending the opening of Broadway’s sixth edition of The Front Page October 20 at the Broadhurst Theatre.
First and most conspicuous was the doom-and-gloom contingent that arrived with stressed, drawn faces only faintly camouflaged with fixed, faux smiles trying to say “no problem.” These are called critics, and, at the edict of producer Scott Rudin channeling David Merrick, they could only attend the opening night performance and then breathlessly file their reviews on deadline like critics did in 1928 when Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote their jaundiced valentine to journalism.
Then, there were the paying (or comped) customers, practically giddy with the prospects of seeing Nathan Lane on one of his most unbridled madcap romps, this time as a scoop-happy Tasmanian devil named Walter Burns, squeezing one last story out of his star reporter, Hildy Johnson, before Hildy goes “legitimate” and into advertising. That role is played, without much of a reach, by Mad Men’s John Slattery.
And there are more brand names where those came from: John Goodman, Jefferson Mays, Sherie Rene Scott, Robert Morse, Holland Taylor, Lewis J. Stadlen, Dylan Baker, Patricia Conolly, Halley Feiffer, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Micah Stock, Christopher McDonald, David Pittu, Joey Slotnick, Clarke Thorell and Dann Florek.
Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley has a special connection with Lane that neither talk much about and never with a straight face. Early in their careers (circa 1990), Shanley hired Lane to play a South Pacific island native in full tribal gear for a movie he was writing and directing called Joe Versus the Volanco. “Baw, the Waponi advance man” was just a bit role but not nearly bit enough for Lane.
Not one to rest on his Pulitzer, Shanley is putting the finishes touches on a comedy called The Portuguese Kid that he will direct next season at Manhattan Theatre Club.
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He, has never seen The Front Page on stage. “I’ve read the play more than once but not lately,” he said, “and I have seen it as a film at least two or three times.”
Ironically, another person for whom The Front Page was new and news was NBC’s Kate Snow. “Look,” she explained, “my husband and I are the last people to see any Broadway show. We haven’t seen Hamilton yet. “We have two kids, there’s an election going on and I anchor nightly. I’m a little bit busy so to take a night off and be able to come and see great theatre, I’m just personally very excited about this.”
Jennifer Simard, who swiped Seth Rudetsky’s recent Disaster! musical from all hands and copped a Tony nomination in the process as the guitar-strumming nun, seems to have swum to a safe shore: Scott Rudin’s little spring offering, Hello, Dolly! “I’ll play Ernestina Money, the worst date of all time for Horace Vandergelder,” she cheerfully declared. Her next move in theatre, she promised, is to catch A Life, which is opening Oct. 24 at Playwrights Horizons starring her soon-to-be Horace, David Hyde Pierce.
A former Hildy Johnson could be found among the first-nighters: Jason Butler Harner, who played the brow-beaten reporter to Richard Kind’s Walter Burns. “Walter Burns has one of the best late entrances in American theatre,” remembers Harner. (According to a few critics’ timepieces on opening night, Lane arrived 105 minutes into the show, late in the second act, but he came with the force of a tsunami and took the whole third act with him.) “I’m interested in seeing how the phones go and the card game goes because I know that our guys—Matthew Rauch and Brian Hutchison—worked their butts off in our show to get that really fast.”
The closest Harner has come to working with Lane has been in play readings. “There was a play he was looking at doing he ultimately did with someone wonderful and it was not me, but then we became very good friends. You know, when I first moved to New York in 1992, I remember seeing this guy at the old Broadway diner which is now called Serafina up there on Broadway, wondering, ‘Who’s that man so intent on something? It was Nathan Lane, before I knew who he was. It was a big moment for me in terms of living in New York City and then making the correlation of being a normal, wonderful actor just having lunch, processing something he was thinking.”
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Harner’s last Broadway credit was The Crucible. The day after it closed he went to Atlanta and signed up for a 10-episode series called Ozark for Netflix with Laura Linney and Jason Bateman. “It’s kinda rural, but I play a fed guy. It’s about a struggling family that has to move to the Ozarks. It’ll come out in the spring. The great thing about doing a TV series, especially one that finishes filming in January, is that you’re available for theatre in the spring while everyone chases series.”
The Rum Tum Tugger among the current Cats litter, Tyler Hanes, brought his rock-star swagger to the Broadhurst. “I’m having the time of my life in the show,” he admitted without much of arm-twist. “Marnie Parris is our new Grizabella, and now we’re just enjoying the audiences and the run.” As for his focus for the evening, “This cast is amazing, but I’m a huge John Goodman fan. I’ve just seen him on camera, so I’m looking forward to seeing him onstage.”
Goodman’s daughter (by Roseanne), Alicia “Lecy” Goranson, was paying her second visit to The Front Page. “John plays the sheriff in the show and is wonderful,” she reports. “I also have worked with Jefferson Mays. We did Lydie Breeze down at New York Theatre Workshop 16 years ago.” She made her Off-Broadway debut 20 years ago by Defying Gravity at the American Place when it was still the American Place. “I just did a new play over the summer at HERE Arts Center. It’s called Who Mourns for Bob the Goon? Once you do a play, all you want to do is have a break, but I’ve had the break. It’s been a couple of weeks, and I’m ready to get back on the boards.”
Jerry Zaks, who has directed Nathan Lane more than anyone else (five times: Guys and Dolls, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Addams Family), left the reins of his new show (A Bronx Tale, which bows December 1 at the Longacre) to his co-director, Robert De Niro, so he could make the opening. “Nathan’s the best,” he declared.
The male ingénue of La Cage aux Folles and Bright Star, A. J. Shively, arrived “With Anne on My Arm” (the name, actually, was Hannah Elless, and she, too, was from Bright Star). “Michael X. Martin from Bright Star is in the company,” Shively was quick to point out to explain his attendance. “Half the cast are people I’ve admired half my life and the other half are people I’ve just met. I can’t wait to see the show.”
Michael Aronov, who stole J.T. Rogers’ Lincoln Center sold-out hit, Oslo, last year when it was downstairs at the Mitzi Newhouse and will likely rate Tony consideration when it moves upstairs April 13 to the Broadway-eligible Vivian Beaumont, brought an Oscar winner to see The Front Page: Estelle Parsons.
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“See it?” Parsons screeched of the material she was about to witness. “I was in it. I was in it with Henry Fonda and Bob Ryan, when we had a rep company, and then we did it for CBS.” And did she play the mother of Hildy’s fiancée? “I don’t think so. I was a girl at the time. I thought I was the fiancée. I have no idea. That was such a long, long time ago, you know.”
Six-time Tony nominee Andrea Martin walked the carpet, too. “Nathan and I go back to Lips Together, Teeth Apart, in the ‘90s,” she recalled. “That’s how we met, and we’ve been close friends ever since. I’m looking forward to this.”
Sarah Paulson, who deserves an Emmy for her Emmy acceptance speech when she won for her portrayal of O.J.’s prosecutor, Marcia Clark, had specific reasons for being there: “Nathan played F. Lee Bailey in the O.J. Simpson miniseries, and Halley Feiffer and I have done a play together, but I’m friends with almost all of them.”
Playwright Paul Rudnick could barely contain himself as the mob of first-nighters made their way into the theatre: “I can’t wait. I love this play, and that cast is just matchless. Every role has been cast at star level. What a glorious evening! I’ve seen about three Front Pages, but not in a long time. It’s about time we had another one.”
“All my favorite people in one place” was the way that Jonny Orsini put it. He made his Broadway debut for director Jack O’Brien playing Lane’s boyfriend in The Nance.
Jeffrey Tambor, who just raked in a whole new set of awards playing the transgender lead for Netflix’s Transparent, got sentimental on entering the Broadhurst: “I started out in this theatre. My first show was here, Sly Fox. We were the original, first with George C. Scott, then Robert Preston, then Vince Gardenia.”
Few people arrived as pumped as Sarah Stiles, the Tony-nominated puppeteer of Hand to God and Avenue Q. “I haven’t worked with any of ‘em before, but I’m a giant fan of all of them. Really. How often can you say that about everyone in the cast?”
Playwright Terrence McNally can take a bow for teaming Lane and Slattery for the first time—in The Lisbon Traviata. “I don’t want to know how long ago that was.”
“How’s the understudying going?” a reporter teasingly asked Jon Hamm when he arrived. He and his Mad Men boss, John Slattery, are listed as the actors who will go on if Nick Kroll or John Mulaney can’t go on for Oh, Hello on Broadway, which [notes the Playbill] would be awkward since Slattery is currently starring in The Front Page.
Matthew Broderick, who co-starred with Lane in The Producers, The Odd Couple and It’s Only a Play, dropped by to see how Lane would do alone. “I can’t believe that he’d be any good,” he was heard to mutter as he made his way into the theatre.