March 11, 2007

Happy Returns for "Prelude to a Kiss"

Many sophisticated theatergoers, including my husband K, don’t like to go on weekends. They think it's the time when theater parties, tourists, and others they consider to be not-quite-as-sophisticated attend. I don’t know if my fellow audience members at a recent Friday night performance of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Prelude to a Kiss were sophisticated or not. I’m just happy that in this era of DVDs, iPods, Tivos and, yes, the Internet, they decided to come out and see a Broadway show. The man sitting behind me was probably one of those outsiders. His wife looked happy to be there; he much less so. Until, flipping through the pages of the Playbill, he recognized the photo of one of the stars. “Hey, it’s the guy from Frasier,” he said to his wife, now bobbing his head at her in approval at what she’d chosen for them to see. And indeed it was John Mahoney, who for 11 years played the down-to-earth dad to the effete sons on the popular, Emmy Award winning sitcom. By coincidence, both of his TV offspring have also recently been on New York stages. Kelsey Grammer played Henry Higgins in the limited four-night run of My Fair Lady with the New York Philharmonic. And David Hyde Pierce is in previews for the Kander and Ebb musical Curtains, which opens March 22.

In Prelude, Mahoney has the pivotal role of the mysterious old man who crashes a wedding and upsets the lives of the just married couple. Hollywood actors who appear on Broadway stages often get as little respect as the tourists who fill the seats in the weekend audiences. And sometimes those theatrical carpetbaggers, trying to trade on their celebrity without having packed sufficient stage technique, don’t deserve any respect. But it’s different for Mahoney. Before his Frasier success, he was an esteemed actor on New York stages, winning a Tony Award as Best Supporting Actor in The House of Blue Leaves; and in Chicago, where he has been a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company since 1979. And the years on Frasier haven’t dulled his theater chops at all. Even critics who weren’t crazy about this Prelude have rightly praised his performance. The guy behind me liked him too. “That was pretty good,” he told his wife as they put on their coats after the curtain call. I was also happy to see Mahoney back on a stage. Prelude, first produced on Broadway in 1990 at the height of the city’s AIDS epidemic, is usually seen as an homage to the power of love but for me Mahoney’s richly nuanced performance turned it into a moving meditation on the meaning of aging. I was equally happy that a performance like his might make the man in the seat behind me feel comfortable enough about returning to Broadway to try some other show, maybe even one with no guy from Frasier.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have seen screen-celebrities trying their chops on the broadway stage when it hasn't quite worked. So the analogy of the tourist seems spot-on. I appreciate how you reveal shades of theatrical experience refracted through the lense of another audience member. There is something lyrical about considering the nuances to be found in what you are watching by watching another watcher.