Neil Simon's classic comedy "The Sunshine Boys" opened this Wednesday evening at the Walnut Street Theatre and will play through March 4th. Centering on two veterans of vaudeville, Al Lewis and Willie Clark, this hysterically funny play lights up the dark winter night with a much needed bolt of post holiday laughter.
Incredible as it may seem today, when the "Sunshine Boys" first opened on Broadway in 1972, it was Mr. Simon's 12th consecutive Broadway hit! Has there ever been another record like that? I remember that in 1972 my vitriolic and misanthropic English Literature professor (whose name I honestly cannot recall) declared that as a playwright, Neil Simon was nothing more than a "hack". Ding dong, was he ever wrong! Hacks don't get revived as Simon did in 1997 on Broadway to yet again glowing reviews. Had I been more outspoken at the time, I would have defended Mr. Simon by pointing out that he is the Moliere of his day. For when he creates a character, he draws on the foibles and follies of modern day man. And in each one we see our stubbornness, our vanity, our pettiness rear its grotesque little head as we acknowledge each with a raucous guffaw. Having distinguished himself on Broadway, and in film as one of our most gifted comedic writers, let it suffice to say that Mr. Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" is a gem from start to finish.
But to the plot. Lewis and Clark used to work together as a comedy team for 43 years, but they haven't spoken in the eleven years since Lewis retired. Clark wasn't ready for retirement and has held it against Lewis that he broke up the act. It is now 1972 and CBS is inviting the team to reunite for a special on the history of comedy. They will represent the Vaudeville era at its best. At first, against it, Willie Clark is convinced by his nephew, the agent, Ben Silverman to revive one of the old routines one last time. Unfortunately, getting the two old actors into the same room for a rehearsal proves to be nearly disastrous and their shenanigans on the TV set are no less uproarious.
Frank Ferrante who plays the very apoplectic Ben Silverman has also directed, and in this production Mr. Ferrante has really delivered the goods. With never a lull or lag, the piece roars like a freight train from joke to joke, from set up to set up, churning out gags like so much steam. Mr. Ferrante has also cast the show decidedly well. Irwin Charone is just terrific as the whining, petulant, grudge-holding Willie. Michael Marcus doesn't miss a beat as the dry, sardonic Al. Joliet F. Harris is delightful as the Registered Nurse and Anne Connors packs a wallop as the Nurse in the Vaudeville routine. The set by Christopher Hanes is a deliciously cluttered one room suite in an old hotel complete with a ceiling that is raked to a startling perspective that leads the eye to the outside skyline of Manhattan.
If you're wallowing in the mid-winter doldrums and don't know what to do, try seeing "The Sunshine Boys". It's a show you can bring your grandmother and your grandson too. But be cautioned. If you are a heavy laugher you may be shushed by some of the duller people in the audience. But take no heed. Just keep laughing. After all, that's what Willie and Lewis tried to do for forty-three years: "Make 'em laugh."
For tickets call the Box Office at (215) 574-3550 or log on to Walnut Street's Website at:
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