"It's Only A Play" - 10.15.14

Show/Venue: It’s Only a Play at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Date: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 @ 2pm

Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Rupert Grint, Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally and introducing Micah Stock.

Website: http://itsonlyaplay.com

When I first heard that “Ron Weasley” was coming to Broadway, I knew I had to go. When I first got into the Harry Potter series and movies, Rupert Grint’s portrayal of Ron, won me over and he quickly became my favorite character of the series. So, on Wednesday, October 15th, he was the main reason I wanted to take in a matinee showing of It’s Only a Play at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in the heart of Times Square and the Theatre District. Thankfully, I was able to score a first row seat in the Balcony, so I had a great view of the stage with very little obstruction.

Going into the show, I knew very little other than the show was a limited run and there were many other celebrity names in the show. The premise of the show is about the cast and production team of another play, waiting to hear the reviews after their Opening Night. All of the events take place in the producer, Julia Budder’s (Megan Mullally) swanky NYC home. The characters move in and out of her grand bedroom, with some scenes involving large French doors that swing open and closed to reveal the next cast member or a rowdy party scene going down in the apartment “downstairs.”

Gus P. Head (Micah Stock) is the first cast member on stage, as he plays a budding actor, freshly moved to the city. In his Broadway debut, Stock plays Gus as an over-eager young man waiting for his big break, by checking coats and waiting on all the various guests. His naivety brings many laughs to the theatre crowd, as he doesn’t recognize the stars as they enter and helps give the audience an introduction to each of them and their character’s backstory.

As the door opens each time, the audience waits to see who the next character will be. James Wicker (Nathan Lane) received the loudest applause during his entrance at my show, with various hoots and hollers as each cast members comes through the large white doors. Lane is on the stage the majority of the show and does his job as the play’s narrator. He explains how he was going to be in this play, written by his best friend Peter Austin (Matthew Broderick), but decided to opt out, due to his busy schedule with a CSI-like successful television show.

As other characters enter, Virginia Noyes (Stockard Channing) – a fresh out of rehab aging-star, Mullally, Frank Finger (Rupert Grint) – as the young, wunderkind director from England and Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham) – as a theatre critic, with history with the other characters; the story starts to develop.

Channing does a wonderful job of playing the over-the-top diva with a drinking problem. Her character is aided by a cane and giant fur coat, which she throws over the ornate chaise lounge in center stage with ease. She educates Gus and James on her life in the business and waits for the reviews of her first performance, post-rehab. Showing shades of her beloved Grease character, Rizzo, Channing camps it up with perhaps a nod to Lindsay Lohan’s may trips to rehab and chances to rehabilitate her career.

Mullally is mostly a glorified version of Karen Walker, her beloved character from Will & Grace, but with a blonde wig and a fitted white dress with gold. High energy & almost giddy, Mullally is the only other character on the stage almost as much as Lane. She does her job to move the plot line along, as we learn how she became involved in the production and her relationship with Wicker. Stock carries a lot of the comedic relief with his one-liners as he enters and exits the room to bring in and take out the coats of the various party goers. (A continuing gag of various themed coats runs throughout the show, as Head must bring in the coats and jackets for various Broadway shoes, like The Lion King and Aladdin.)

Grint finally enters well into the First Act, as the beleaguered director of the play. He’s had so many hits, that all he wants is a flop, so the expectations for him can be lowered. He’s hardly recognizable as most fans would have known him, if not for his red hair and British accent. Dressed in a shiny, patterned teal suit and runny eye-makeup, he looks exhausted and spends part of the show, hidden underneath a large black blanket in the corner of the stage. His character, through the high expectations of his career, has also picked up a bit of kleptomania, and many jokes are thrown around with what he has picked up from Julia’s home and shoved into his pockets.

When Matthew Broderick finally enters, the audience begins to realize what Peter has at stake in this production. There is a sort of reunion on stage, as he becomes acquainted with each character, but it’s the anticipation of the play within a play’s review that drives the show. Broderick shows elements of humor that endeared him to many as Ferris Bueller many years ago. He plays nervous very well and carries the cast into the end of the First Act, as the New York Times review finally arrives via Mullally’s iPhone.

Most of the Second Act revolves around reading the New York Times review and how each character reacts to their negative or positive critique, including Abraham as another theatre critic. Each story line for the characters resolves throughout the Times review and we learn if each of them receives the news that they are hoping for. But sorry, no spoilers here!

As a larger fan of musicals, I found that my attention wained during parts of the play, but it was Lane that helped keep my attention. The play has been updated for the current year and several amusing pop culture references were thrown in for a laugh. (I guess I should note that I was probably the youngest crowd member by about 15-20 years during this show.) Partway into the First Act, the audience learns that the play is on the verge of being a flop, although no one wants to tell Peter, most certainly not his best friend, who actually turned down the play, because of how awful it is.

The cast does a lovely job of playing off one another, but I kept waiting for the big song and dance number! At one point, towards the end of Act One, the woman sitting next to me had dozed off to sleep. I enjoyed the show, getting the opportunity to see some of my favorite actors live on stage, but would I pay over $170 to see it again, no thanks. You’ll find me at another showing of Kinky Boots for that price.

Overall, my desire to see “Ron” was satisfied. I liked seeing Rupert in his Broadway debut, but I was almost hoping for him to have an American accent or take on something a bit more challenging, as I feel that Daniel Radcliffe did in How to Succeed… and The Cripple of Inishman. I wish that his role also allowed him to display some of the comedic side, which endeared him to so many Harry Potter fans. I’m anxious to see what other Broadway roles he might take on in the future.

Just after I wrote this article, it was announced that the show would be extended into 2015 with Martin Short taking over for Nathan Lane in the role of James Wicker. Prices for tickets have also continued to skyrocket.