Welcome Back Lyons Family...Keeping Busy?

If there is something that I have been waiting to do for a while now, it is to follow a show from inception to Broadway. That’s right; imagine seeing a show at every interval in its life, from the first reading to maybe an out-of-town tryout to an Off-Broadway run to Broadway to their Tony Awards performance even…I can’t explain why that would excite me – and maybe I stand alone - but it does.

The Lyons, which just opened yesterday at the Cort Theater, is one of the first shows I can have that experience with given that I saw (and enjoyed) it’s Off-Broadway run this past fall. Oh sure; it is hardly what I would call a long venture or something, but I was excited when the Broadway transfer was announced. I was curious as to what changes would be made and if the cast would be along for the ride.

"I'm totally comfortable right now."
"This is not awkward at all."
Now, I am not sure if this common for all transfers, but almost nothing was changed. I mean, I saw the internet-circulated bootlegs of Next to Normal and Spring Awakening off-Broadway and between songs axed and dialogue changes, both productions flowed better and improved drastically from their already strong faire. Granted, both of those were musicals, but still…the only change made to The Lyons was that Lisa’s AA meeting monologue, which opened the second-act, was cut entirely. On that point though, it is still listed in the Playbill – since I saw the show in previews, I take it that they were still contemplating throwing it in. Everything else remained as is…on the one hand, why change what mostly worked for them? On the other hand, the production’s evident flaws remain in tact.

Not that it had too many of them…but it all boils down to the second scene with Curtis and the realtor. It stands out as the weakest of the bunch because (1) there is no Rita Lyons chewing the scenery and (2) the scene is so laissez-faire with its direction. Oh, there is a point to it – a deft one at that – but the wit and dialogue of the damn-near flawless first act fall off the deep-end, leaving the actors floundering throughout. As it goes on and on, I grow more uncomfortable in my seat and the consensus of the audience is that the show starts to lose its steam.

But you know what…this is Nicky Silver’s first soirée on Broadway and it is a strong showing. Here’s a concise list of things that won me over:

-- Silver’s writing. I know that seems a little backhanded after being so adamantly against a pivotal scene, but when it is on, it is on like Donkey Kong. Interplay that is genuinely funny, fully-realized characters and an unforeseen depth that hits you when you least expect it.

-- Above all, it really is hysterical. No kidding – the dark, deadpan humor is a personal favorite of mine and this show is a great example of it. It is also an impassioned drama when it wants to be. But most of all, Silver strikes a perfect balance that does not make the show a farce, nor depress the audience into taking uppers just to make it through the rest of the day.

 -- The ensemble does not mess around; it’s a pretty strong bunch across the board. Brenda Pressly, the nurse, makes the most of what she is given and Gregory Wooddell, the realtor showing Curtis an apartment, has charisma and biceps for days. Dick Latessa does not grate as much as I recall and even at the age of 84, he is game as the bed-ridden Ben. Kate Jennings Grant, as Lisa, brings a full-scale of emotion and maintains a likability amidst her character’s tornado of negativity.

-- Michael Esper carries a sizeable burden on his shoulders and succeeds by bringing Curtis to a breaking point of debilitation. Watching his character come to terms with his loneliness is heartbreaking and provides a nice contrast to Rita’s unsympathetic, vicious wit. Personally, Christian Borle and Andrew Garfield are the frontrunners for a Tony nomination – and I love both of their performances respectfully – but Esper’s name should be in the running alongside these heavy hitters.

-- Yes, Esper is great…but Linda Lavin remains the strongest part of the production and the show’s best chance for a Tony-nomination. Watching her homerun every line and facial expression is such a joy. When she delivers her final “Fu** you; I’m alive and fabulous” monologue, she leaves the audience wanting more and applauding her tenacity…but mostly wanting more. The tone of her voice and facial reactions reveal layers into a character that is trying to move past her dysfunctional 40-year marriage. More importantly, watching the children trying to put Rita in her place is hilarious because she is having none of that; she just cancels them with rapid-fire quips and a exhaunt. She’s like the harmless villain in a soap opera…for some reason, you just love her inspite of all of her “I would pull out my hair if she said that to me” moments.

I may not so secretly wish The Lyons was more refined, but considering how much I enjoyed myself and how good most of the elements are, why get all bent out of shape? With some great reception floating around the interweb, I am not the only one recognizing the quiet superior quality this show presents forward. And with a lot of fantastic long-running or recently opened plays, The Lyons holds its own with the best of them. Job well done Mr. Silver…

Photo Credit: The Lyons on Broadway

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