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Review Roundup: Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN is Back on Broadway - All the Reviews!

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Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN began previews on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 and opened tonight, Sunday, April 1st, 2012 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN is now running on Broadway with James Earl Jones, John Larroquette, Candice Bergen, Eric McCormack, Kerry Butler, Jefferson Mays, Michael McKean and Angela Lansbury.

The design team includes scenic designer Derek McLane, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, Ann Roth, sound designer John Gromada and projection designer Peter Nigrini.

A play about power, ambition, political secrets, ruthlessness and the race for the presidency, Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN is set at the national convention where two candidates are vying for their party's nomination during the primary season. It's an inside look at the dirt-digging, double-dealing, triple-crossing chicanery of presidential electioneering. This marks the first major revival of Gore Vidal's THE BEST MAN since it received a Tony Award nomination and won the Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award in 2000.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: By the time the curtain came down on this starry but sluggish production, and a nominee had been formally announced, I did feel as if I’d endured a particularly fractious and constipated evening at a political convention. Need I add that acquiring this experience has never been one of my great ambitions? ... I’m not sure Mr. Jones’s presence can be classified as color-blind casting.But no matter: this consummate actor digs into his role with a relish you can surely sense from the back row of the balcony. He all but swamps the stage with Hockstader’s hearty bonhomie and zest for the machinations of backroom deal making, but also succeeds in inflecting his character — in the last rounds of a losing battle with cancer — with a moving sense of his mortality. He also earns robust laughs with some of Mr. Vidal’s piercingly funny lines collapsing the distance between the politics of mid-20th-century America and today.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: You'll be clapping a lot during the 2 1/2-hour show — mainly just to welcome an embarrassment of riches on stage: James Earl Jones. Angela Lansbury. John Larroquette. Candice Bergen. Eric McCormack. Michael McKean and Kerry Butler. It's like a greatest hits album on stage. Director Michael Wilson gives each a moment to shine and excitingly paces the play like a thriller.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: As drama, The Best Man is both soapy and self-righteous; fortunately, director Michael Wilson has assembled a cast of seasoned pros who manage a winningly dry, light touch. John Larroquette brings a mix of gravitas and ruefulness to Russell, whose only apparent shortcoming is trouble remaining faithful to his wife. ... But the biggest, warmest laughs are provided by another venerable octogenarian: James Earl Jones, who clearly has a field day as jocular former president Artie Hockstader. Though a fundamentally decent fellow, Hockstader has no problem enjoying some of the tawdrier elements of the political game as a spectator. Thanks to the sterling company here, neither will you. 

David Rooney, Reuters/Hollywood Reporter: It may not have the satirical sting it no doubt carried back in 1960, but Gore Vidal’s The Best Man still has plenty of bite even in our more jaded age, when chronic moral affront has so polluted the national political landscape that it’s seemingly beyond clean-up. An ideally timed antidote to a mercurial presidential primary race running low on levity, Michael Wilson’s Broadway revival is shrewdly cast, with a starry ensemble that lands every laugh while bringing sly shadings to their characters... The Bottom Line - A top-notch cast breathes fresh life into this entertaining round of political marksmanship by a keen-eyed observer whose experience in the D.C. swamp informs every line.

Linda Winer, Newsday: The three-act structure of Vidal's 1960 campaign melodrama is a bit creaky. But everything else about this joyfully shrewd star-encrusted revival -- including, for starters, the untouchable James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury, plus a deeply touching Candice Bergen and an astonishing John Larroquette -- feels as pertinent and as boldly impertinent as the daily machinations in our latest mud-fight to the White House.

Howard Shapiro, The Philadelphia InquirerThis big-star cast worth a wide shelf of past Tony and Emmy Awards deserves a worthwhile play - and they have one. Vidal's smart, tightly plotted story of political intrigue is not just entertaining, it's refreshing; it focuses on a decent presidential candidate who challenges the idea of ad-hominem attacks on an opponent.

Michael Musto, The Village VoiceA couple of legends, some TV stars, a few Broadway types, and Giuliani's ex wife--all together in the original outing play. It's as mixed a bag as it sounds. It's the new production of The Best Man, which is as timely as ever, seeing as it's set at a convention where corruption and dirty politics hang over every word.

Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times: The most prominent graphic element on the new Best Man poster is the list of names of the stars of the show. There is a general rule of thumb about movies that if the ad features numerous boxes with pictures of each star and the caption “[star] as [role]” that the movie is likely to be a dog. That is not the case here. Nearly every role is cast with thespian royalty, including Michael McKean as an aide and Jefferson Mays as a character who has dirt on one of the candidates. Even Donna Hanover, the former first lady of New York, has a small role as a reporter in her Broadway debut. Most of the actors deliver. The exceptions, though, undermine the production: Eric McCormack as the slick candidate and Kerry Butler as his catty Southern belle wife. They are not just wrong-headed but whiny-voiced and annoying. This is not comic caricature, or at least not successful caricture. They just seem the result of inadequate stage craft. That this is so is both disappointing and completely baffling.
 
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily NewsThe play, like a lot of speeches, is witty but long-winded. At times it’s implausible. At others it’s prescient. ... As blustery ex-President Arthur Hockstader, whose support could sway the tight race, James Earl Jones is as persuasive and captivating as a bullhorn. Just as great is Angela Lansbury in her irresistibly tart and smart turn as Sue-Ellen Gamadge, chairwoman of the women’s division. Don’t let Sue’s ruffles fool you, she’s a shrewd operator. ... The most fascinating thing about “Best Man” is that the author seemingly depicts a surprise development as noble, when it’s anything but. The turn is incredibly cynical.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York PostDespite smaller parts and stiff competition — this show is starrier than a cloudless mountain sky — Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen and Kerry Butler shine brightest. The one scene this trio shares is a rare moment when Michael Wilson’s overly decorous production chomps with the right satirical bite. ... As fine as Larroquette and McCormack are, there doesn’t seem to be any heartfelt anger in their battle — and this sucks out a lot of the play’s energy.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: The play's twists, which include a then-scandalous gay rumor, may seem less surprising to audiences grown jaded by Fox News, MSNBC, and the 24/7 political spin cycle. But Vidal's play remains remarkably well-constructed (and the cast will doubtless improve the pacing, which moseys occasionally, as they grow into their roles). ... And there's 86-year-old Angela Lansbury, sharp as a tack even if she needs a cane now to command the stage, as the Southern grand dame who chairs the party's women's division and sways the crucial women's vote.

Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: The stage is filled with stars, but the one who makes the evening go is John Larroquette, playing candidate William Russell, a former secretary of state who knows he should keep his quirky, intellectual style under wraps, but can't help himself from doing things such as quoting Martin Luther. ... "The Best Man" provides a look back at what presidential campaigns used to be like before candidates became the straightforward, honorable individuals they are today.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Two powerful party elders dog the efforts of both would-be candidates. Sue-Ellen Gamadge, chairman of the “Women’s Division” is played with jolly antiquity by Angela Lansbury. Former President Arthur Hockstader, whose illness has not dampened his raffish charm, is played commandingly by James Earl Jones. That both of these great stars are somewhat miscast (and Jones was doing battle with some of his lines at a critics’ preview) mattered little to the demonstrative audience (or to me). Jefferson Mays makes a late appearance as a shadow from Cantwell’s past and just about steals the show.
 
Eric Haagensen, Backstage: The terrific physical production puts us on the convention floor, thanks to Derek McLane's immersive set. ... Vidal's insights resonate today, from Tea Party true-believer pressure to birth control controversies, to the point of being scary. There aren't many plays at which the audience regularly applauds the dialogue. You'll likely applaud much more than that in Wilson's grandly satisfying revival.

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