|Frank Ferrante leads a terrific cast in rarely seen Neil Simon play
posted by Ralph Malachowski on Feb 1, 2017 10:30am | comments
Living legend Neil Simon’s 1993 play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, is enjoying a terrific revival now at the Walnut Street Theatre. Frank Ferrante directs the ensemble and stars as Max Prince, The King of Comedy. When the Walnut first presented Laughter on the 23rd Floor twenty years ago, it was Frank Ferrante who then played Max Prince. In this new production, Mr. Ferrante returns to give a bravura performance as Max Prince. He inhabits the character so thoroughly, it is impossible to think of anyone else in the role. Considering that theatrical legend Nathan Lane originated the part on Broadway, that is saying something indeed.
Neil Simon was a young writer on the hit television show of the 1950s, Your Show of Shows, which starred Sid Caesar. He used his madcap experiences there as inspiration for Laughter on the 23rd Floor. Simon’s co-writers on the show included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and many others, so we experience one zany character after another (all with different names, of course), all capped off by the supremely crazy Max Prince, who bears a striking resemblance to Sid Caesar. Set in New York City, circa 1953, the entire comedy is set on West 57th Street on the 23rd floor of an office building. The office, designed by David P. Gordon, is the wonderful playground for the antics of these disparate characters.
The ingratiating Davy Raphaely portrays Lucas, the young writer, who is at times the play’s narrator and the alter ego of Neil Simon. Others in the strong ensemble cast include Steve Perlmutter, Tony Freeman, Anthony Lawton, and Jesse Bernstein. Scott Greer blows in as the last character among the writers. Scott Greer is the flamboyant hypochondriac Ira, who while grating on everyone’s nerves, is an indispensable writer of funny lines. Balancing out the male writers are two women, Leah Carol and Ellie Mooney.
As previously noted, Frank Ferrante is remarkable as the television star. We see him go from the king of television to just another talent in another program for paid advertising. Max is never either mentally or emotionally stable, but his decline (although at times frightening), is nevertheless still frequently very funny. Frank Ferrante is indefatigable in his manic outbursts, physical stunts, and, yes, even in his poignant moments. By any standards, his is a great performance.
Mr. Ferrante will also bring An Evening with Groucho to the Walnut stage for one night only, February 27.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor will be playing at the Walnut Street Theatre until March 5. An Evening with Groucho will be presented for one night, February 27. For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org or call 215-574-3550.