BWW Reviews: Group Rep Produces a Well-Honed BOEING BOEING
According to the 1991 Guinness Book of Records Boeing Boeing was the most performed French farce. Originating in 1960, it spawned a French film and an American film in 1965 as a vehicle for the comedic antics of Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis, but as I sat and watched Group rep's mostly well done version on opening night, I questioned all the hoop-la. It's not as screamingly funny as Moliere, whose exaggerated characterizations are so delightful. Boeing Boeing is basically plotless and predictable with a couple of characters displaying obnoxious nationality traits that can get on one's nerves but are fun nonetheless. Now in a new revival well paced by director Larry Eisenberg, Group rep's actors don the international robes and dish out the divergent flavors with some style and flair.
Bernard (Paul Cady), changed in subsequent versions from Parisian to American architect, converts his Parisian pad - this is very 60s - into a brothel of sorts as he keeps three stewardesses on a string, wooing them and even claiming them as his fiancees, each of whom knows nothing about the other arrangements. It's like the line from the song "Hundreds of Girls" in Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel, " What gives a man power and punch, Tina for breakfast and Lena for lunch", as, in Act I, he has the TWA American flight attendant Gloria (Jennifer Ross) at breakfast, Italian Gabrielle (Jenny Sue Johnson) coming in for lunch and German Gretchen (Vesna Tolomanoska) arriving in time for dinner. Cautiously adjusting the time schedules of their flights to his personal timetable, Bernard is able to spend quality time with each, without any interference.
Enter his naive old buddy Robert (Patrick Burke) from Wisconsin, who cannot believe Bernard's stamina and success with such immoral tactics, but ... in an attempt to cover for him, quickly learns to open himself up to some pretty wild possibilities. You see, the predictable element of the play from the very top is that the stewardesses' schedules will eventually get juggled around and all three will end up in the apartment simultaneously. It's a nightmare for Bernard, but a real field day for Robert, who learns to let go and enjoy life for the very first time. Keeping one entertained and the other in the bathroom or in an adjacent room to avoid confrontation is pretty much the three act play... another fault being its length. Most of the genuine laughs emanate from Robert's naivete and playful behavior, from the girls' aggressively flirtatious moves, and from a no nonsense French maid Berthe (Michele Bernath), who is fed up with the comings and goings of her boss's harem.
Under Larry Eisenberg's 'pull out all the stops' direction, the cast is terrific. Although perhaps a tad too old for their roles, Cady and Burke have energy and enthusiasm to spare and make it work. Cady's appealing good looks and strong physical self-worth assist him in stretching to Bernard's egomaniacal manner, and Burke's crazed nervousness works to perfection for Robert. Cady is at his comedy best when distraught and Burke in his delicious moments in trying to figure out how to best make out with a woman. His face, voice and mannerisms all blend beautifully in a great comic performance. Bernath as Berthe steals all of her scenes with her snooty French attitude and clipped retorts. She displays perfect timing and is very, very funny, as is Johnson as Gabrielle. Like a tiny Italian ball of fire a la Anna Magnani or more recently Patti LuPone (when playing any authentic Mediterranean woman), she is hilariously on target. Ross plays the ferocity of the unlikable take.control Gloria quite well - the French really put down American female aggression here - and does well with Gloria's joyful moments toward the end. Tolomanoska as Gretchen still has work to do on her character. She needs to perfect a German accent and thoroughly enjoy what she is doing, without pushing so much. As is, she has nice moments, but is inconsistent.
Chris Winfield has designed a fine set and Diana Martin has added nice touches to the set decoration. Loved those Flair paintings which change only color for each stewardess' visit, from blue to red to orange, and Angela M. Eads' pretty period costumes, especially the ones in red for Gabrielle. And those tall colorful women's go-go boots!
Without question, Boeing, Boeing is terribly dated and silly and not substantial enough to make a truly savory farce. It's run of the mill entertainment, which somehow audiences have come to like over the years, perhaps because of its sexual allure. Those three women are voluptuous and beautiful to look at! Group rep's cast and Larry Eisenberg have overall done a fine job in carrying off its utter senselessness.