Rob Kenna in IT’S ONLY A PLAY at Melbourne Civic Theatre. Photo by Max Thornton
By PAM HARBAUGH
Finally! I’m going to get to see this show…Thank you MCT!
As Shakespeare said “The play is the thing,” and perhaps one of the best ways to survey the landscape before venturing into the play is to take a look at the cast of characters and setting.
With Terrence McNally’s updated “It’s Only a Play,” opening tonight at Melbourne Civic Theatre, that glimpse tells much. Here it is:
The setting: A “lavish Manhattan townhouse” owned by producer Julia Budder, who is throwing a post-opening party for Broadway royalty to await the reviews of the fictional new show “The Golden Egg.”Among the rest of the characters are: the playwright who has “everything riding” on the show’s success; a director expecting his knighthood; the star who is forced to wear an electronic bracelet on his ankle; and the critic who “wears glasses and has food stains on his tie.”
So, yes, this has that urbane Noel Coward sheen to it. Filled with wit and celebrity and the fun behind the scenes look of what the culturati are actually like when the paparazzi are nowhere to be found.
The play was first written under the title “Broadway, Broadway” but after a 1978 pre-Broadway tryout, it never made it to Broadway, Broadway. McNally renamed the show and revised his script and it was produced in 1982 at an Off-Off Broadway venue, which, as the New York Times then theater critic Frank Rich wrote, “almost no one saw.”
In 1986 it had an Off-Broadway run by the Manhattan Theatre Club. Then, finally, the show which was originally called “Broadway, Broadway” actually opened on Broadway in 2014. Its luminescent cast included Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Megan Mullaly, Stockard Channing, Rupert Grint and F. Murray Abraham as the Broadway critic.
Now, the show comes to Brevard.
Interesting, that debut is almost as roundabout as the show’s Broadway debut.
MCT’s director Peg Girard had originally planned to produce Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” but could not cast it the way she wanted. So she turned to “It’s Only a Play.”
Now if only theater folk didn’t swear so #$%@ much.
“I was a bit concerned about some of the language in the show, but I felt the humor and look into the other side of plays would be interesting and fun for the audience,” she said. “You get a glimpse of what it is like to be an actor or playwright or director after opening night waiting for the reviews.”Her husband, Terrence Girard, plays Jimmie Wicker, an actor who left Broadway for Hollywood.
He likens the play to a “Holy Grail” for theater folk written by someone who really knows the scene.
“McNally’s spent this life in that milieu, so he nails the various types and targets them for parody,” Terrence Girard said. “The characters are smart, sophisticated show-biz types – acerbic, self-absorbed, bitchy – so they’re a hoot to play while also ripe for being made fun of… It’s fun for us locals to taste that world vicariously through the play.”
McNally has also made a number of esoteric references to actors, writers and critics. In fact, when he updated his 1986 version to the 2014 version, he changed many of the names to keep up with the times.
Name dropping which “drop like hailstones” according to New York Times critic Ben Brantley, has replaced Shirley MacLaine with Rosie O’Donnell. Arlene Francis (does anyone know her for anything other than “To Tell the Truth”) has been replaced with Kelly Ripa. And poor Charles Nelson Reilly has been ousted for Harvey Fierstein.
Again, with all that #$%@ language.
“It’s not an altogether flattering look,” he said. “But there is a plenty of funny stuff that isn’t dependent on familiarity with the New York theater scene. “
The good-natured Terrence Girard’s biggest concern is that fellow actor Rob Kenna will steal the show, which is typically Terrence Girard’s domain.
This is Kenna’s first show with MCT. A Vero Beach resident, McKenna has performed in a few shows at the Henegar Center (“Sweeney Todd,” “Sister Act” and “Annie” in which he played Daddy Warbucks”).
“He is really letting his freak flag fly as the director, Frank Finger,” Terrence Girard said. “He may walk off with the show if the rest of us aren’t careful.”
Other cast members include:
Nadine Antaillia as Julia Budder, the Broadway producer with a heart of gold. Alan Selby, who is the scenic and lighting designer, does triple duty here as the insecure playwright Peter Austin.
Anthony Mowad is Ira Drew, the cutthroat Broadway critic. Becky Behl-Hill is Virginia Noyes, a drug addicted actress who has returned to Broadway after making a name for herself in Hollywood.
And MCT newcomer Mike Landau is Gus Head, a wanna be actor who is with the wait staff at the grand after-show party.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “It’s Only a Play” runs through April 29 at Melbourne Civic Theatre, 817 E. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $31 general and $29 for seniors, military and students. It performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. If the show sells out, keep an eye open for added performances within the range of the run. Call 321-723-6935 or visit MyMCT.org or click on their ad.