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A CurtainUp Review
Boeing Boeing

Boeing, Boeing Flies Its Daffy Lovers to Broadway
Mark Rylance in boeing, boeing
Mark Rylance
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
While the initial London staging of Boeing, Boeing made the Guinness Book of Records with a 7-year, 2000 performance run, it failed to gain altitude with American audiences in 1965 (it closed after 23 performances). A movie version with Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis didn't do much better. Add to this that sexy air hostesses are now flight attendants of either sex and Boeing, Boeing has all the earmarks of a dated and perhaps too British show to warrant a transfer of its latest London incarnation to New York.

My concerns that the Olivier award winning London revival would not be as much fun for New Yorkers has now been put to rest. I will therefore limit my comments to the current cast and refer you to Lizzie Loveridge's thumbs up review of the London production for full details about the farcical doings.

The Broadway production now has an American actors playing the time-table savvy Bernard, his sexy international trio of high flying fianceés and the grumpy French maid enlisted as his air traffic controller. Boeing, Boeing is nevertheless exactly the bowl of delicious frothy ice cream we need to lift our spirits at a time when the daily headlines give us little to laugh about. Its arrival on our shores is as well timed, as the entrances and exits through its seven doors. The Americans move into Rob Howell's elegant Paris apartment with zestful overacting and flawless timing.

Of course, the crucial contributor to the successful second coming of Boeing, Boeing, is Mark Rylance as the rube from Wisconsin who arrives on scene just as his friend Bernard perfectly juggled schedule of dining and bedding his fianceés goes awry. Fortunately, Rylance, best known as a Shakespearian, has agreed to reprise his award-winning role and, even if you're not a fan of this theatrical genre, his performance truly lives up to that over-used adjective "amazing." His dishevelled charm and physicality is a marvel to behold. Seasoned thespian that he is, he has developed a fine rapport with the American cast which undoubtedly contributes to overall vivaciousness and excellence.

Bradley Whitford makes a welcome return to the stage (he's in recent years been best known for his gig on West Wing) as the lustful architect for whom geometry is the key to his living every man's fantasy of having a harem of beautiful women. Though Whitford is mostly the Hardy to Rylance's Laurel, in the second act he too explodes into inspired lunacy.

The ladies of the flight play their caricaturish stereotypes with sexy over-the-top snap, crackle and pop — Kathryn Hahn as the American Gloria, Gina Gershon as the Sophia Loren-ish Italian Gabriella, and Mary McCormack as the über German Gretchen. While Christine Baranski has enough comic savvy to do well by the maid-cum-flight controller Berthe, dialect coach Deborah Hecht has failed to help her master a thick French accent and still be heard, an unlikely problem for her London counterpart Frances de la Tour. (Several people sitting near me in good orchestra seats, complained that they had difficulty understanding her).

Though not a musical, this has a terrific Mamma Mia-like curtain call. It's choreographed for the Broadway production by Kathleen Marshall, but as Lizzie Loveridge points out at the end of her review, the idea of a dancing curtain call was often and enjoyably employed by Rylance during his tenure as the Globe's artistic director. What fun. Don't even think about rushing out!

Broadway Production Notes
By Marc Camoletti, translated from the French by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Cast: Christine Baranski (Berthe), Mark Rylance (Robert), Bradley Whitford (Bernard), Gina Gershon (Gabriella), Kathryn Hahn (Gloria) and Mary McCormack (Gretchen).Set and costumes by Rob Howell
Lighting by Hugh Vanstone
Music by Claire Van Kampen
Sound by Simon Baker
Curtain Call Choreography: Kathleen Marshall
Dialect Coach: Deborah Hecht
Stage manager: William Joseph Barnes.Longacre Theater, 220 West 48th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200.
From 4/19/08; opening 5/14/08.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, plus intermission.
Tickets (selling through 9/07/08): $99.50 to $26.50
Tuesday @ 7pm, Wednesday ti Saturday @ 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday @ 2pm, Sunday @ 3pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on May 8th.
Closing 1/04/09

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Review of Boeing, Boeing in London by Lizzie Loveridge

Get married my way. Polygamy, it's the ideal life!
— Bernard
Matthew Warchus, who was responsible for the long running West End hit, Yasmin Reza's Art, directs a revival of another long running West End hit by a French author. Boeing Boeing which had its theatrical heyday in the 1960s, is a successful example of the genre of West End farce. This movement was inspired by French farce, and exemplified by the French author Georges Feydeau whose nineteenth century comedies saw young men almost caught out in illicit intrigues.

At school I remember acting in one such farce, playing a milliner who dallies with someone else's bridegroom. These plays were as much fun for the cast as the audience. When in Boeing Boeing the maid Bertha (Frances de la Tour) almost corpses (Editorial note: For anyone unfamiliar with this term its Britspeak for bursting into laughter or forgetting one's lines) as she answers the phone, the audience can really enjoy a consummate professional in danger of losing it onstage.

The successful farce has a predictability, a furious pace and lots of near misses or Misses barely avoiding each other. As one exits, another enters, unaware of the first — the timing is all.

The male parts are taken by two fine classical actors — Roger Allam as Bernard, the Parisian philanderer who has studied the airline timetables in order to cox and box three lovely air hostesses, each one of whom believes she is his fiancée. Allam is all suave sophistication which turns to consternation as his deceptions start to unravel. Mark Rylance plays the country bumpkin, Robert who is in awe of his friend's success with women. The three women are ball breaking, loud, American Gloria from TWA (Tazmin Outhwaite); Italian lovely Gabriella (Daisy Beaumont) from Air Italia and the zany, outlandish hostess with Lufthansa, Gretchen (Michelle Gomez).

Frances de la Tour completes the picture as the obstinate old maid, Bertha, who has to change the sheets and the menus to fit in with each nationality. A change to airline schedules and some bad weather over the Atlantic brings some timetable clashes. Despite Robert's inept attempts to head off the actual discovery of one girl by another and his invention of unlikely alibis, Bernard is in a deep quagmire. The second half necessitates some rather improbable explanations as the cast romp around the stage and Bernard's flying chicks come home to roost.

Warchus' direction is very slick and remarkably the show doesn't feel dated which by rights it should. In many respects, this is Mark Rylance's show as his gift for comedy and comic timing, honed after his years entertaining the Pit at Shakespeare's Globe comes to the fore. I liked his attempts to get rid of the maid Bertha as she doggedly sits down and refuses to take the hint and get on with her work in the kitchen.

Rylance's character is a little funky chap with a Welsh accent and dressed from head to toe in brown tweed but rather cute for all that. Michelle Gomez' Gretchen allows this actor to show off some of the extreme moves she is famous for in Channel 4 television's Green Wing. She prostrates herself, clasps the men to her bosom as if they are in danger of being asphyxiated and launches herself into a full on comedy role. I liked too the confident American Gloria who wants Robert's opinion on her kissing technique.

Designer Rob Howell provides us with Bernard's fin de siecle mansion flat overlooking on of the Paris boulevards, an elegant circular set with enough doors for exits and entrances and with a centre chandelier with coloured shades in each of the girl's airline colour. He also has dressed the air hostesses in sexy uniforms, shortest of skirts, highest of heels and with their hair up tucked under those jaunty hats. Claire van Kempen's music is mostly tunes of the 1960s with lyrics in French and just perfect. The show closes with a dancing romp, a modern version of the ones we loved at Rylance's Globe.

As I have said, it is a very professional revival of what is really a simple comedy. As I watched it, I wondered if the sex roles could be reversed with women cast as the philandering deceivers. Is Boeing Boeing ultimately anything other than a bowl of frothy ice cream? No, but many will find it delicious.

BOEING BOEING in London featured Roger Allam, Mark Rylance, Tamzin Outhwaite, Michelle Gomez, Frances de la Tour, Daisy Beaumont and was reviewd on 16th February 2007 performance at the Comedy Theatre, Panton Street, London SW1

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