A couple of legends, some TV stars, a few Broadway types, and Giuliani’s ex-wife — all together in the original outing play.
It’s as mixed a bag as it sounds.
It’s the new production of The Best Man, which is as timely as ever, seeing as it’s set at a convention where corruption and dirty politics hang over every word.
When you arrive at the theater, the ushers are dressed like conventioneers and there’s background noise being piped in to make you feel like you’re really at such an event.
And then the play starts, with John Larroquette as the wisecracking but high-minded contender William Russell — a man with some scandal in the way of a past nervous breakdown and lots of cheating on the wife.
But he’s a dream compared to his opponent, Senator Joseph Cantwell (Eric McCormack), a slimy character with his own possible scandal (he may have engaged in gay activities), though he’s always on the offensive and never lets his opposition get a word in edgewise.
(He’s basically Rick Santorum.)
The departing president (James Earl Jones) urges Russell to fling the mud to get back at Cantwell’s threat to do the same, because those who take the high road basically aren’t fit for office under this system.
As Russell decides which road to take, the play crackles with wit and some tension.
The Michael Wilson-directed production is solid but uneven.
The magnetic James Earl Jones starts out too broadly, seeming out of sync with the others, though he settles into a strong performance of a dying cynic who loves a good, messy fight.
McCormack is OK, but he overplays the character’s villainy, announcing his creepiness rather than suggesting it.
Tony winner Larroquette is better at Russell’s glibness than his principled aspect and sometimes seems to recede into the background.
(“Nobody with that awful wife and those ugly kids could be anything but normal” is his best line, said in response to the Cantwell gay rumors.)
But Candice Bergen is superb as his hurt wife, who rallies to his side for the campaign and comes to really respect him. She’s both funny and very touching — a welcome return to Broadway.
And Angela Lansbury is expectedly terrific in the smallish role of the Southern lobbyist who feels women don’t want a first lady to be too fabulous. You wish she didn’t practically disappear after Act One.
Oh, and, by the way, Donna Hanover — Rudy’s ex — does fine in two small roles.
So while this might not be the best Best Man — except for some of the women — the play still provides enough topical pleasures to warrant blackmailing someone for a ticket.