Revival Of Broadway Classic Meets Critics
BROADWAY MAGAZINE – Last night, the new Broadway revival of The Royal Family officially opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Today, the Broadway Opening Night critics have published their reviews of the production from the Manhattan Theatre Club. A close reading of 10 opening night reviews offers compelling insight into this 1927 comedy. While critics are at odds about the merits of the play and production, there is overwhelming acclaim for stars Jan Maxwell and Rosemary Harris. A majority of the critics applauded the direction and comic pacing of Doug Hughes’ staging, though there were notable detractors.
While one critic noted that the three-act comedy felt long, several critics noted that by the middle of the production a transformation that occurs which makes The Royal Family more successful than the traditional Broadway revival. With an extension for The Royal Family already announced before opening night, and a majority of positive reviews, it is likely that The Royal Family will have a successful Broadway run.
Three Key Take Aways from Opening Night Reviews of The Royal Family
- Virtuoso Actresses: Though critics were divided on the effectiveness of the ensemble as a whole, there was unswerving enthusiasm for the work of Jan Maxwell and Rosemary Harris, who play mother and daughter. As one critic noted, in The Royal Family the women “wear the pants.” The work of both Maxwell and Harris garnered fervent admiration from Opening Night Critics.
- Old Chestnut?: Using the definition of an “old chestnut” as a play that has been repeated so often that it is not funny any more, it is interesting that several opening night critics note that The Royal Family is firmly rooted in its 1927 setting. From its traditional three-act structure to its large cast, opulent sets, and focus on an era when Broadway stars “mattered in a way they no longer do,” as John Simon wrote, the word “dated” was used by various reviewers in reference to the play. More than one critic expressed the thought that this play was not George Kaufman’s strongest work.
- Exceptional Production Values: The physical production of The Royal Family inspired awe and admiration from the opening night critics. The set by John Lee Beatty, Catherine Zuber’s costumes, and the lighting by Kenneth Posner all were singled out for recognition by a significant number of critics.
Should You See The Royal Family On Broadway?
Yes, if you like strong female performances, theatre-based comedies, lush sets, The Barrymore family, theatre, three-act plays, farce, Rosemary Harris, elegant costumes, Tony Roberts, lifestyles of the rich and famous, OK! Magazine in 1927, Jan Maxwell, curtains, temper tantrums, the twenties, on stage-fights, back-stage dramas, romance, mothers and daughters, John Barrymore, any theatrical dynasty, classic American comedies, George Kaufman, Edna Ferber, Doug Hughes, Manhattan Theatre Club, and Actors.
Opening Night Reviews For The Royal Family
“It still has its amusing moments, but the element of satire (underlined by the fact that Reg Rogers, who plays Tony Cavendish, is made up to look like John Barrymore) is now dated past the point of easy recognition, and the humor dries up abruptly and unpleasingly when the plot takes a bathetic turn in the last act.” –Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal
“Too often, the play falls back on that dated device of having scenes dissolve into chaos and squabbling, with everyone shouting over one another. Try as he might, Hughes can’t make these moments play as anything but stilted mayhem.” –David Rooney, Variety
“Fortunately, the MTC production is graced with a terrific collection of actors who rise to the heightened flamboyance needed to carry out these highly theatrical impersonations. The cast is headed by the ever-lovely Rosemary Harris, portraying Fanny Cavendish, the grande dame of this exotic troupe.” –Michael Kuchwara, AP
“What is happening is a blurring of illusion and bone-deep conviction that is peculiar to live theater, as two actresses playing actresses spin hokum into moonlight, just as their characters are said to do.” –Ben Brantley, New York Times
“Rosemary Harris, the real-life grand dame cast as matriarch Fanny Cavendish, actually appeared in a 1975 production of Family as the daughter, Julie Cavendish. In this staging, Julie is played by Jan Maxwell, whose elegant, high-cheekboned beauty and comic dexterity suit the part perfectly.” –Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Maxwell, in an extravagantly over-the-top and Tony Award-worthy performance, leaves no stop unpulled as an actress with many burdens to bear, not the least of which is getting to the theater promptly eight times a week.” –David Finkle, Theatremania
“Doug Hughes’ crack staging appears frenetic at first, but by the final curtain, you’ll realize that Hughes commands his thespian troops with the precision of a military strategist.” –David Sheward, Hollywood Reporter
“Add to this that despite some funny bits, Kaufman had not yet reached the height of his comic gifts. So we get rather more competence than magnificence.” –John Simon, Bloomberg
“Luckily, Doug Hughes’ production has a firm hold on both the play’s humor and heart.” –Matt Windman, am New York
“For all the gorgeous bustle of the luxurious 16-member cast, John Lee Beatty’s period-luxe set and Catherine Zuber’s impeccable costumes, this production both loves the life-upon-the-wicked-stage romance of the theater and knows the demands of its insularity.” –Linda Winer, Newsday
Tags: Barrymores, Broadway, Broadway Magazine, Broadway.tv, Dough Hughes, Edna Ferber, George Kaufman, Jan Maxwell, Manhattan Theatre Club, Opening Night, Review Matrix, Reviews, Rosemary Harris, THE ROYAL FAMILY