Neil Simon is back on the Great White Way, as the revival of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" opened Sunday night. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
When I first saw "Brighton Beach Memoirs" by Neil Simon 26 years ago, it was a comedy with drama. In the current revival, it's a drama with comedy. While the script is essentially the same with topnotch actors in both productions, the difference is the direction. David Cromer, fresh from his unique, naturalistic off-Broadway staging of "Our Town," applies his now trademark directorial magic to the Neil Simon classic. The result is triumphant, as just as it was a huge hit back then, it deserves to be once again.
Eugene Jerome, the alter ego of a young Neil Simon, made Matthew Broderick famous at the age of 21. Now stepping into those worn but formidable sneakers is Noah Robbins, a 19-year-old phenom who is making his Broadway debut. Resembling an adolescent Woody Allen, he puts a different spin on the part of the precocious 15-year-old but he's every bit as successful.
Simon's autobiographical play about his early days with his family in Brighton Beach circa 1937 is as poignant as it is funny. But when the play debuted in 1983, the emphasis was clearly on the humor, showcasing the famed playwright's comedy skills.
Now, Cromer as a director slows it down some, and without sacrificing the laugh lines, he manages to deepen the characters and infuse the production with a more pronounced sense of time and place.
The Depression-era struggles of this Brooklyn family certainly resonate today and the combined pathos and pitch-perfect humor will have audiences laughing and crying.
The cast struggles a bit with the accent, but that's the only knock on this fine company.
Eugene's dependent widowed aunt Blanche is beautifully realized by Jessica Hecht. Santino Fontana playing Eugene's brother Stanley finds all the dimensions of an older sibling with one foot in the rivalry stage and the other in adulthood.
Eugene's hardworking father Jack is captivatingly real in the hands of Dennis Boutsikaris, while Laurie Metcalf masterfully mines the nuances of Kate, a feisty, domineering Jewish mother who loves and worries in equal measure.
Unlike the earlier Simon comedies that are powered by the punchline, the humor in "Brighton Beach" is entirely organic. David Cromer, who I bet could locate human qualities in a head of cabbage, is an inspired choice to direct. The outstanding collaboration makes "Brighton Beach" a prime Broadway destination.