Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2018

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Co., The Royal Family of Broadway

Barrington Stage Co., Pittsfield, MA.
through July 7, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

Harriet Harris commands the stage in “The Royal Family of Broadway” now at Barrington Stage’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage. This musical version of the 1927 play, “The Royal Family” by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, is loosely based on the Barrymore dynasty with book by Rachel Sheinkin and nineteen highly original songs with lyrics and music by William Finn.

This production brings tongue-in-cheek references to all things Broadway while paying homage to actors whose first love (theatre) takes precedence over more usual life-decisions, such as marrying, having children, and paying the bills.  While I enjoyed every minute, I couldn’t help but wish the audience had been stocked with other theatre people who would get the sly humor and sincere passion that define the actor’s life.  Lines like, “you’re toying with my affectations,” shows that the book is written with warmth, heart, and a self-referential style that is both current and a nod to the acting profession.

Photo by Daniel Rader
The perfectly cast performers feature several stars like Will Swenson, who charms the audience while never losing connection with those on stage.  His antics are hilarious and he lands every line. Chip Zien as the family’s producer is magnetic.  His solo, “Gloriously Imperfect” is as charming and solid as he is as a performer. Laura Michelle Kelly’s voice is ethereal in its range and quality, and she is well matched by the magnetic Alan H. Green as her suitor.  Hayley Podshun as the youngest of the family and A.J. Shively as her fiancĂ©e (then husband) both have strong voices and graceful dance moves.  Arnie Burton has great comic chops that show well throughout the play, but bring down the house at the top of Act Two with the show-within-the show “Striking Viking”—a production in which everything that can go wrong, really does.  His stage wife, Kathryn Fitzgerald is cast against type and adds a special comic twist, providing a very original duo representing more “distant” relations.  Holly Ann Butler as the household’s “stage manager” provides perfectly timed comic action along with an ensemble that sings/dances/acts in some gender-bending ways, all led by the outstanding Broadway genius, John Rando (director). But on-stage—Miss Harris is magnetic.

The songs in this world-premiere could stand to be trimmed a bit for timing, but to be honest, I wouldn’t want to cut any of the lyrics.   If this show continues to attract attention, I’m sure many of the songs will enter the would-be actor’s repertoire of theatre-inspired audition songs for their relevance to the actor/singer’s craft and love of theatre.