BWW Reviews: Hal Holbrook Celebrates 60 years of MARK TWAIN
While many of my friends were screaming for a 68 year-old Cher strutting her stuff at the Verizon Center on Friday night, I was a few blocks away spending the evening with the 89 year-old Mark Twain, err...Hal Holbrook.
For 60 years now, Mr. Holbrook has been bringing one of America's most beloved entertainers to life on stage. The name of the two talents have now become so thoroughly intertwined that it's impossible to imagine a Mark Twain any different from Holbrook's legendary portrayal.
Friday's performance at the National Theatre marked the actor's 40th performance of the sho w in the nation's capital, but the first at the National. Since 1954, Holbrook has been bringing Mark Twain to life and while many actors were waiting tables in-between acting gigs, Holbrook would be booking extra performances of Mark Twain Tonight! to being in some extra cash.
Finally making it to Broadway in 1966, Holbrook went home with the Tony Award and dozens of others over his extraordinary career. I had the pleasure of seeing him nearly 20 years ago in the pre-Broadway tryout of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," and even as a college student, I immediately recognized the brilliance of this man who stands well over 6' transform into a tiny shell of a man who I assumed was no taller than 5' 4". When I saw him come out the stage door, towering over everyone else, I was floored.
His performance Friday night was no different. In his cream-colored three-piece suit, unkempt white hair, bushy eyebrows and moustache, Holbrook spent close to two hours sharing Twain's anecdotes, political beliefs and even a dramatic reading from Huckleberry Finn.
At 89, Holbrook needed his notes a few times as he carried the audience through a vivid, opinionated life on the Mississippi. At certain moments, there would be a pause and there was just the tiniest fear that he'd lost where he was in the story, but each time it turned out to be a brilliant calculation bringing even more uproarious laughter as the punchline landed.
Each year, the Kennedy Center gives away the Mark Twain Prize for Humor. Many think of Twain primarily as the author of Huckleberry Finn, but his subtle wit is what makes him a lasting figure in American history. And it takes an actor of enormous talent to not only capture this figure but make him live and breathe for 60 years now.
There's something to be said for watching history unfold in front of you, and catching Mr. Holbrook's Mark Twain was just one of those moments. I look forward to his 50th DC performance.