Review: Broadway Bound, New Theatre

Lynne Lancaster

Laughter and intensity are blended in the third part of Neil Simon's trilogy.
Review: Broadway Bound, New Theatre
Broadway Bound. Photo by Chris Lundie.

Broadway Bound, the last play in Neil Simon’s seemingly autobiographical trilogy (following Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues), looks at three generations of the Jerome family and follows the story of son Eugene Jerome, an aspiring comedy writer with fanciful dreams of a career in radio. 

Its 1949 and Eugene and his brother (and at times writing partner) Stanley are traversing the wilds of Brooklyn. They are dealing with their ever increasingly unapproachable father, disenchanted mother, and obstreperous, cantankerous grandfather. Meanwhile, their mother’s sister, Blanche, has ‘married well’ and now lives on Park Avenue.

Simon’s script, while perhaps a little dated now, is still warm and witty however most of the ‘jokes’ did fall rather flat. What's brought out under Rosane McNamara’s deft direction, with great pacing and timing, is the intensity of the family relationships and the cataclysmic shifts that occur; the exhausting search for and feverish exuberance of creativity, and the poignancy of lost dreams.

The cast is excellent and all give impressive performances. Patrick Holman as narrator Eugene and Simon Lee as his exuberant rather more boisterous brother Stanley give marvellous performances with their squabbling, jesting, enthusiasm, energy and solid sibling support. Stanley is perhaps the more efficient businessman, willing to go out on a limb to go after the broadcasting career he longs for, Eugene the irrepressible one. Both have a great sense of vocation.

Broadway Bound. Photo by Chris Lundie.

Brett Heath as reserved, uptight, gruff Jack, Eugene and Stanley’s father, is bitter and suffers mostly in brooding silence. He is dynamic with a commanding presence, especially at first, but we learn of hidden secrets and how he needs to 'get away from himself and everything he was ', slipping quietly out of the house and his marriage.

Kate, the boy's on edge, elegant beautiful mother, who has become rather stoic and restrained, harks on family memories (the inherited special dining table acting as a symbol) and has become self sacrificing and concentrates on serving others. Emotionally she is by now rather brittle and fragile. Suzann James gives a splendid performance.

As socially upwardly mobile Blanche, dressed oh so posh in a magnificent fur coat and hat, Susan Jordan is full of daughterly concern for both her parents and yet is also frustrated at the lack of response from her father Ben. Blanche has done well for herself, now re-married and residing on Park Avenue. When Ben alerts her of Kate's upcoming split with Jack, Blanche is shocked but does not offer much in the way of help, preferring to let her sister work it out on her own. 

Ben, Eugene’s and Stanley’s socialist grandfather, was given a droll, finely nuanced, aggravating yet deceptively flippant performance by Les Asmussen.

Allan Walpole's cut-away multi-level detailed set showed both inside the house and the outside, including a living room with a huge radio and a dining room with the most important table, encapsulates the era and is fluid and practical.

Sometimes nostalgic and bittersweet and interspersed with dry wit, Simon’s play analyses the human condition and is an intense, most moving domestic drama.

4 Stars ★★★★
Broadway Bound by Neil Simon
CREATIVE & PRODUCTION TEAM
Director Rosane McNamara
Set Designer Allan Walpole
Costume Designer David Marshall Martin
Sound Designer David Cashman
Lighting Designer Mehran Mortezaei
Assistant Director Martin Kelly
Production Manager Louise Fischer
Stage Manager Jo Jewitt
Lights and Sound Operator Ricci Costa
CAST
Les Asmussen, Patrick Holman, Brett Heath, Suzann James, Susan Jordan, Simon Lee
13 November – 15 December 2018
New Theatre, Newtown

 
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.