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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Royal Family of Broadway
Barrington Stage Company
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's reviews of In the Heights and A Night with Janis Joplin


The Cast
Photo by Daniel Rader
The Royal Family of Broadway, continuing at Barrington Stage Company through July 7th, fuses exemplary performances with the gifts of an undeniably gifted creative team. The result is a musical (far more comic than I anticipated) which should eventually make its way to a Broadway theater. Those looking for a delightfully eager and well-crafted production will adore this one. Light, lively and featuring exaggeration, it blends all the elements of top-notch musical theater. It is not profound, but it is delicious.

George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber wrote the play version of The Royal Family, which ran for 10 months on Broadway after opening on December 28, 1927. The musical features a book by Rachel Sheinkin with William Finn's music and lyrics and is credited as being "based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber and an original adaptation by Richard Greenberg." Vadim Feichtner supplies musical direction and dance arrangements. Joshua Bergasse's choreography is sublime, and director John Rando puts it all together in a friendly, skillfully assembled package. The enhancing and versatile sets, devised by Alexander Dodge, bring us to 1927/28. Alejo Vietti's costuming is splendid and Mary Schilling-Martin's wigs are essential.

The plot follows the New York City Cavendish family (drawn from the famous Barrymores). It is a theatrical contingent all about live stage aspirations. The matriarch of the contingent is Fanny (Harriet Harris), who is shrill, a bit overbearing, and not nearly as all-knowing as she professes. Her daughter Julie (Laura Michelle Kelly) is divorced and involved with Gilbert Marshall (Alan H. Green). Julie's daughter Gwen (Hayley Podschun) is sweet-voiced and falling in love with Perry Stewart (A.J. Shively), who lives in Westchester but, by day, is a triumphant Wall Street stock broker. Fanny's brother Herbert Dean (Arnie Burton) is another theater type, as is his wife, Kitty (Kathryn Fitzgerald). Will they actually appear in something called The Striking Viking? Character actor Chip Zien is winning as Oscar Wolfe, a theater producer/agent sort who attempts to be of some assistance. Actress Holly Ann Butler plays Della, who must dash about the Cavendish apartment.

Perhaps the star of the production (even if he hasn't any more lines than the others) is the incandescent and (in this case) larger than life Will Swenson who, with flair and pizzazz, embodies Tony Cavendish. Tony is brother to Julie and son of Fanny and her late husband Aubrey. There's a painting of Aubrey stage left, which looms over the proceedings. Tony, to be blunt, thinks he's better than everybody and proclaims so. In the role, Swenson delivers the tune "Too Much Drama in My Life" with gusto. Swenson's Tony is all too aware of the spotlight; he basks in it. Ultimately, this is "The Royal Family of Broadway," a number Tony and everyone else sings with a combination of discipline and authentic enthusiasm.

It would not be a mistake to label many of those on stage, led by characters Fanny and Tony Cavendish (closely followed by Herbert and Kitty Dean), to be self-serving. Further, it would come as no surprise if those devising this two and one half hour rendering admitted to doing so somewhat tongue-in-cheek. After all, it's about Broadway, then and now, and could land somewhere in Manhattan months from now.

The imaginative pairs of artists have come together before. Lyricist/composer Finn is best known for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Falsettos, while Sheinkin wrote the book for Spelling Bee. Rando and Bergasse worked together when BSC staged The Pirates of Penzance, On the Town, and Guys and Dolls. This time, they all collaborate and score highest marks with the product.

A first act highlight is Baby, Let's Stroll, which enables the gracefully youthful Gwen (Podschun) and Perry (Shively) to sing and dance with a fine combination of joy and elegance. It's a neat moment to admire Bergasse's choreography. Actress Laura Michelle Kelly is stirring, with solos such as "I Have Found" in the second portion of the presentation. The larger production numbers at the beginning and conclusion of The Royal Family allow multiple cast members, many of whom bring impressive lists of prior credits, to the fore: dancing and singing is heartily ecstatic. A personal favorite is "If You Marry an Actress," which features five male voices and is vocally reminiscent of Kiss Me, Kate.

This is a musical rich in humor, some romance, feeling, and huge doses of braggadocio. It is Fanny, before intermission, who pronounces, "Marriage isn't a career. It's an incident." See this one in the Berkshires.

The Royal Family of Broadway, through July 7, 2018, on the Boyd-Quinson MainStage at Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield MA. For tickets, call 413-236-8888 or visit Barringtonstageco.org.


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