BWW Review: Hale Centre Theatre Presents Punchy HEAVEN CAN WAIT
HEAVEN CAN WAIT, Harry Segall's 1930's stage play, has enjoyed a long and durable shelf life, certainly with a span longer than the one contemplated for the comedy's central character, Joe Pendleton. It became the ticket for a 1941 Oscar for best original story in the film adaptation, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and the premise for the eponymous 1978 flick with Warren Beatty.
Joe Pendleton (Josh Hunt), a 22 year old New Jersey pugilist, with stars in his eyes and a lucky sax, is a championship contender. On the verge of the bout of his life, the Flying Fighter's plane is down for the count and Joe's spirit is collected by a heavenly messenger (Jonathan Holdsworth) for admission to the other side. Much to the chagrin of Messenger 7013, a fatal error, so to speak, has been made. Mr. Jordan (Mark Kleinman), the concierge of the pearly gates, verifies that Joe has been called before his time ~ sixty years before his time! This is a knockout from which Joe can't recover unless Mr. Jordan can conjure a solution. The challenge is compounded when the heavenly hosts learn that Joe's body has been cremated by his earthly earthy manager, Max Levene (Wayne Peck). Not all is lost, of course, as Jordan hatches a plan to return Joe to earth in the body of a deceitful millionaire, Jonathan Farnsworth, whose life is hanging by a thread as his wife Julia (Alanna Kalbfleisch) and his personal secretary (Stephen Serna) attempt to murder him.
Returned to the Farnsworth mansion, Joe's persona still lives and so too does his fighting ambition. He manages to convince Max that he's for real and persuades Max to book a fight. Meanwhile, his wife and her lover are bewildered by Joe's resurrection. Joe falls in love with the daughter (Melissa Powers) of a financier whom Farnsworth has framed and sent to prison.
Here then is the canvas on which a series of comic hooks, jabs, and uppercuts is delivered with great fun and energy. Mr. Hunt serves up a highly likable Joe, prancing, skipping, jabbing and sounding authentically Joisy! Mr. Kleinman carries the heavenly registrar with proper poise and bureaucratic panache, periodically uttering worldly words of wisdom about the meaning of life with a certain undeniable authority, Mr. Holdsworth is delightful as the solicitous and eager-to-please Messenger. Mr. Levene is the prototypical cigar-chewing guy you want in your corner. Mr. Serna has a marvelous knack for channeling a mix of pomposity and sinisterness, as he did in Hale's recent production of Tarzan. Mss. Kalbfleisch and Powers round out the triangles with flare.
All in all, HEAVEN CAN WAIT is a punchy entertainment, worth the price of a ringside seat.
HEAVEN CAN WAIT runs at the Hale Centre Theatre on Mondays and Tuesdays from through November 17th.
Photo credit to Nick Woodward-Shaw