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Denis Ryan, Carol Burnett, Randy Graff, Jane Connell and James Valentine in Moon Over Buffalo on Broadway; PC: Joan Marcus

Full Moon: Burnett, Bosco, and Buffalo shuffle off to Broadway in Moon Over Buffalo

The Boston Phoenix, 18 August 1995

by Carolyn Clay

MOON OVER BUFFALO, by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Tom
Moore. Set designed by Heidi Landesman. Costumes by
Bob Mackie. Lighting by Ken Billington. Sound by Tony
Meola. Fight staging by B.H. Barry. With Carol Burnett,
Philip Bosco, Randy Graff, Dennis Ryan, Andy Taylor, Kate
Miller, and James Valentine At the Colonial Theatre
through September 2.

A Prozac nation needs its Feydeau, and we seem to have found ours in Ken Ludwig. Ludwig’s new, Broadway-bound farce, Moon Over Buffabo, may be even funnier than his 1989 hit, Lend Me a Tenor. A glorious, old-fashioned amalgam of The Royal Family and Noises Off, the show revolves around the flamboyant antics of low-rent Lunts George and Charlotte Hay, who head a rickety 1950s theater company reduced to playing Buffalo, New York. Not that anything could really reduce these two, in the larger-than-life personae of Philip Bosco and Carol Burnett. At the Colonial, it’s the audience that’s reduced – to tears of helpless mirth, as the Hays and an increasingly panicked thespian entourage proceed to mix up Private Lives and Cyrano de Bergerac, the beshnozzled colossus showing up on Coward’s Riviera balconies in dishabille, waving a sword and waxing more pickled than poetic.

But in my delirium I get ahead of myself. The Hays, minor royals in the waning world of touring rep, are in Buffalo, licking their wounds over having been passed over for a Frank Capra remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel). They are desperate for a ticket out to the movies – and I don’t mean as spectators. George is doubly desperate as word has just come his way that a brief encounter with the ingénue has had reproductive repercussions. Charlotte, in a huff, storms off with the couple’s roué lawyer just as word comes that, Ronald Coleman having broken both legs as the Pimpernel, Capra is scouting the Hays for the film. George gets exceedingly, and hilariously, drunk, and the whole, extended theatrical family tries to put him – Humpty Dumpty on a bender – together again before the matinee.

A likely story? Certainly not, and it gets less so as herrings ranging from General George Patton to a television weatherman Charlotte thinks is Capra (Burnett’s quizzical, frozen smiles, in response to his remarks about barometric pressure, are priceless) get into the act. But, hey, this is not backstage verité. It’s the stuff of slamming doors (the requisite, classical five) and frantic, increasingly anarchic machinations. Complete chaos, with a happy ending.

Moreover, everything about Moon over Buffalo, with its (deservedly) big stars, its expert supporting cast, its elaborate, Broadway-budget setting (an architectural ballet for stage and green room by Heidi Landesman) and costumes by Bob Mackie), is rather grand – it hearkens back to a bygone era in Boston theater, when smart, surefooted shows (and not a few clinkers) swept through town on their way to Broadway, rather than after a couple of years of selling Andrew Lloyd Webber and overpriced t-shirts to the New York crowd. (Admittedly, Moon Over Buffalo has t-shirts, but at least we get hustled first.)

There are a few small problems with Ludwig’s dramaturgy. including some anachronisms that seem a tad cheap (though funny). The circumstances surrounding the Patton costume are murky. And the play could use a sharper ending. But the performances are top-notch; given the precision amid craziness, the cast may have been drilled by General Patton. (Actually, director Tom Moore has Broadway’s most disparate credits: he staged both Grease and ‘night, Mother.)

Andy Taylor and Dennis Ryan are fine as suitors, one doofy, one dashing, to the Hays’ daughter Rosalind, who’s played by a period-snappy Randy Graff (who won a Tony for City of Angels). Graff’s finest moments are as a veddy-British Sibyl in Private Lives, waiting for her Elyot to (a) show up and (b) stop being a potted Cyrano. Kate Miller is appropriately simpy as the impregnated ingénue; James Valentine is both suave and antsy-pants shockable as the lawyer; and Jane Connell – in a role ripped off from The Guardsman – is marvelously daft and tart as Charlotte’s hearing-impaired seamstress mom.

But, ah, Bosco and Burnett. Bosco, a Ludwig vet who won a Tony for Lend Me a Tenor, is part rake, part teddy-bear, part ambulatory apoplexy as George – a man caught more than once with his pants down but able to carry off drawers and garters as if they were (his natural habitat) XL doublet and hose. Now lurching, now dashing, Bosco is convincing both as an unaccustomed inebriate and as an actor who, though hammy, probably isn’t half bad. And that makes him touching as well as, on countless cockeyed occasions (as when he starts a love affair with some high-octane cofee), side-splitting.

And Burnett, who is returning to Broadway after a short detour of 30 years, holds her own with the actor who’s rarely left. (The two make their first entrance in full Rostand regalia, fencing!) As Charlotte, she makes all of her trademark shtick work for her – the smoldering long faces, the vocal swoops down under a laugh line, the gangly, rubber-legged grace. She even climbs into Bosco’s lap and does Shirley Temple (a woman who, at Burnett’s age, had long-ago abandoned mummery for Republicanism). Nor is Burnett’s Charlotte without charm and chic — it’s merely punctuated by that great fishwife timing. She never pulls her ear, but she sure pulls her weight.


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