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December 06, 2012

Golden Boy by Clifford Odets, directed by Bartlett Sher, Lincoln Center Theater at the Belasco Theatre

After great success with his plays Waiting for Left and Awake and Sing!  in 1935 -- and a stint of movie writing in Hollywood -- Odets returned to Broadway with Golden Boy in 1937.   Being familiar with the first two plays, I looked forward to a chance to get to know Golden Boy.   I wanted to like it.   I even expected to be excited by it.

Here’s my view:  Golden Boy is a pretty good play, and could be powerful with great actors, particularly a resonant actor in the part of Joe Bonaparte, the young boxer.   In this production, the pretty good play has pretty good actors and a good attempt to bring the world of boxing on stage -- but none good enough to overcome the thinness of the characterizations.  It tells a dramatic story but with stereotypes, and the fundamental premise, that Bonaparte has potential as a great violinist is never made convincing so -- much to my surprise -- I found it somewhat tiresome.  (A review of an earlier production says Odets himself thought the situation implausible, though the reviewer doesn’t mention the source.)

Joe Bonaparte is a young kid with two talents -- for the violin and for boxing (welterweight division).  Caught in this conflict between art and filthy lucre -- reflecting a similar conflict in Odets’ life that took him temporarily from Broadway (“art”) to Hollywood (“filthy lucre”) -- Joe gives in to the lure of fame and money. 

Bonaparte turns a deaf ear to the tactful, loving attempts of his father, a music loving Italian, to keep him on the straight and narrow high level career path as a violinist, while the boxing lure is sweetened all the more when Joe falls in love with Lorna, the girlfriend of his good guy manager, Tom.  Sure enough, in his quick rise to near the top in the boxing world, he breaks his hands, ruining them for the violin in a point of no return which was, however, inevitable from the start.  He’s so good at anything he does -- violin, boxing -- he becomes a contender fast, at which point the mob, in the person of sharp dressing Eddie Fuseli, enters to buy a piece of him with an offer that can’t be refused.

The setting and characters are gritty -- boxers, trainers, gangsters, cops, as the cast list describes the extras.  One of the cleverest and most interesting aspects of the play is the way Odets has the brutal boxing matches occur offstage, with their bloody outcomes conveyed to the audience through what happens in the dressing room, giving us an intimate view of the vast gladiators’ combat taking place out there.  The production tries to be gritty:  scenes set in club gyms include well choreographed sparring boxers.  But the arrangement of the mechanical rolling in and out of set changes is distracting and out of tone with the play.

Seth Numrich, who plays Joe Bonaparte, is a good actor and summons up a lot of passion -- and even develops a tougher “New York accent” -- as the physical and psychological conflicts intensify, but he’s just too refined and delicate for the part.  I understand William Holden played Bonaparte in the 1939 film:  this I want to see.  Meanwhile, I thought what the young Brando would have done with it.  At one point a punch drunk boxer nags his manager to arrange a match with Bonaparte and the manager tells his boxer he'll “never make [Bonaparte's] weight,” but the punch-drunk guy looks a lot thicker and stronger than Numrich, and a lot more at home in the world of in-and-off-the-ropes.

Danny Mastrogiorgio has a chance to show some appealing subtlety in the play’s relatively complex role of Bonaparte’s self-interested but not ruthless manager.  Yvonne Strahovski does as well as one can with a stereotyped character, the not-so-dumb blond boxing manager’s girl friend amd she looks great in those wonderful '30's clothes, narrow and with shoulder pads.

Anthony Crivello as the mobster Eddie is Tough, Premptive, Scary, Snappily Dressed and un-nuanced (again I found myself wishing for Brando, now in his Godfather guise).   Joe’s father, Tony Shalhoub, is just too angelically good, as is Joe’s union organizer brother, Frank, played by Lucas Caleb Rooney, though Frank’s head wound, won for a cause of helping his fellow men is an interesting foil to Joe’s bloody wounds won beating up another guy in the boxing ring.  Joe’s father’s spiritual Jewish soul mate, Mr. Carp, played by Jonathan Hadary, is so superficial in his “deep” mutterings and name dropping of philosophers that he makes you smile.  Carp's an extraneous character -- he makes his weak stab at giving the play “universality” and disappears.      

The play gives a look at the underside of the boxing world and its extremes of brutality, and treatment of the boxers as “meat” -- there are bloody moments that make you catch your breath.  But we never really understand why Bonaparte is as he is, what makes him run -- it can’t be just because he’s a little cross eyed, can it?   Especially since we never see that at work or believe it.  I'd say the trait of “cross eyed” was tossed in to help individualize Odets’ unclear characterization of his main character.

I can imagine that actors who draw on deep inward resonances -- like the method actors for whom it was written, and who played in the original production -- would help to overcome inconsistencies and superficialities.  This would allow the play’s best qualities to emerge.  The story is somewhat implausible but -- one can suspend disbelief.  The glimpse of a tough milieu not well known to many of us is fascinating.  And the rush to the heights and descent to the depths -- recalling The Great Gatsby  -- holds great drama.  This production is paced so briskly and brightly that the actors don't have the chance to give their fullest, and the play's genuine strengths are not fulfilled.  Still, in a Broadway season sparse on serious plays, this may do well, and I sort of hope it does.  With a play so well meaning, it's hard not to be in its corner.

Golden Boy  plays at the Belasco Theatre (a gorgeous theatre worth seeing in its own right) on West 44th Street in NYC.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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Thank you for your very thoughtful review of this interesting period piece play. I too agree the acting was competent but certainly not great. The boxing choreography was done quite well. For personal reasons I saw the production twice - both before opening night. There was one change between the two versions that I saw. The earliest version had Bonaparte’s gloves at the end taken off by the trainer Tokyo. When I saw the play the second the gloves were taken off by Eddie the mobster – the prototype for the Godfather. This is a very substantial change for the latter gives the suggestion at least, as Eddie had a lot of money on Bonaparte – that the may have been something in the gloves that enabled Bonaparte to win in such a tragic way. I wonder what the stage directions were that Odets wrote? Also, I was somewhat bemused how Odets took some of his plot The Great Gatsby – this time the crash took place on the South Shore going east, not on the North Shore going West. All in all this a modest play, an interesting evening, and, as I brought two young people with me the first time, for them, worth seeing.

I thought the scene in the gym, Act 2,scene 1, fwas worth the price of admission, similar impact to the George Bellows painting which follows this review. I also think that Joe'e "cross-eyes", which really preordain his choice, is a wonderful metaphor for the two highly disparate (crossed) life-choices he makes.

Thats a great thought -- about the crossed eyes! Thank You For The
Opportunity To Enjoy Such A Wonderful Insight!


Yvonne


Hi
Yvonne Korshak,
NBC
(Rcasemd@nyc.rr.com) has
left you a comment:

I
thought the scene in the gym, Act 2,scene 1, fwas worth
the price of admission, similar impact to the George
Bellows painting which follows this review. I also think
that Joee cross-eyes, which really preordain his
choice, is a wonderful metaphor for the two highly
disparate (crossed) life-choices he makes.
Status:
Published
Options:
Unpublish

The PLAYBILL.com piece first appeared two days before GOLDEN BOY closed: Click on the below link-

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/174043-PHOTO-ARCHIVE-Celebrating-Tony-Award-Winner-Anthony-Crivello

From the New York Times ... Also see:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/12/02/theater/20121202_GOLDEN.html?adxnnl=1&ref=theater&adxnnlx=1361300243-K6U+BtenfY3SuA76jyhtrg


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Subject: ANTHONY CRIVELLO (AND THE CAST OF GOLDEN BOY) in REVIEWS / Lincoln Center's "Broadway revival of 'Golden Boy' 1/2013
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goldenprod3.jpg


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From NBC New York 4:
Seth Numrich has the central role of Joe, a working-class kid who forsakes his promising future as a classical violinist to enter the boxing ring, with its tempting paydays; there, he’s gradually seized upon as a meal ticket by a surly entourage of handlers and investors, none more threatening than gunman Eddie Fuseli (the explosive Anthony Crivello, who won a Tony for 1993’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman”).
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From NY 1:
A fine ensemble rounds out the card. Danny Mastrogiorgio and Yvonne Strahovski settle very nicely into their roles
as excitable boxing manager Moody and his girlfriend Lorna. Anthony Crivello has all the right moves as mobster
Eddie Fuseli.
For all its excesses, Golden Boy must be declared a winner. Lincoln Center's corker of a production packs quite a punch.
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From BACKSTAGE:

A sumptuously talented cast of 19 digs into the tale of would-be violinist ....

Space limitations forbid me saluting all the fine turns in the company. At the top of the heap is Tony Shalhoub’s decent, courtly, and finally devastated Mr. Bonaparte. ... while Anthony Crivello makes a welcome return to the New York stage as Fuseli, scarily psychopathic and shot through with latent erotic desire.
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From EPOCH TIMES / WORLDWIDE EDITION:

NEW YORK—One of the most stunning productions to hit the boards in many a season is the Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of Clifford Odets’s “Golden Boy.” It is at the Belasco Theatre, where it had originally played 75 years ago.
... Actually, his manager, Tom Moody (an excellent Danny Mastrogiorgio), is one of the nicer of those whose paths Joe must cross. The slimy investor Eddie Fuseli (an appropriately ostentatious Anthony Crivello) wants to “buy a piece” of the up-and-coming young fighter. Others want to use Joe solely for his ability to make money for them.
... In fact, one of the appeals of the production is the sense of rhythm that permeates it, rhythm in speech (for that, Odets’s language is mostly responsible, but the cast “gets” it), and rhythm in movement, with the blocking being smooth and economical.

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From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:

In the 1939 screen version, Mr. Holden was cast in the central role of Joe Bonaparte (now played onstage by Seth Numrich), a talented young Italian-American violinist who hates the emasculating poverty into which he was born and seeks to escape it by becoming a lightweight boxer, thereby horrifying his music-loving father (Tony Shalhoub). Joe inevitably falls among thieves, the worst of whom is a murderous gangster (Anthony Crivello) who uses the boy's hunger for fame to set him on a path that leads away from the "truthful success" for which his father longs.
This time around, Messrs. Sher and Yeargan have kept things simple enough that you're never distracted from the magnetic performances of the cast, which is as consistently fine as any I've ever seen on a Broadway stage. Mr. Shalhoub takes top honors by a nose, playing Joe's father with massively gentle dignity, but Yvonne Strahovski is inches behind him as Lorna, the self-styled "tramp from Newark" who falls for Joe very much against her will. Mr. Numrich is just right, while Mr. Crivello oozes viciousness from every pore.

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From AM NEW YORK:

Bartlett Sher, who staged Odets' riveting family drama "Awake and Sing!" in 2006, directs with an emphasis on period style.
Nowadays, most play revivals are headlined by a single, well-known film star. "Golden Boy," on the other hand, has been cast with an abundance of excellent stage actors, including not just Shalhoub and Numrich but also Danny Burstein, Jonathan Hadary, Anthony Crivello and Danny Mastrogiorgio.
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From THE EXAMINER:

For nearly three hours, you feel as if you’ve been pleasantly transported to a movie-like arena in a film noir. You’re also aware of the fact that they just don’t write ‘em like this anymore! And a cry goes out – where are all the great writers like Clifford Odets?

© 2012 Microsoft Corporation© 2012 Nokia
Location: Belasco Theatre
40.756431 ; -73.983863
That aside, this Depression-era, 1937 revival is riveting for just about every moment of the nearly 3 hours, two intermissions at the Belasco Theatre, where Golden Boyfirst appeared.
... As Joe wins more and more fights, he attracts mob money as tough guy Eddie Fuseli (Anthony Crivello) wants a piece of him and gets it, treating him like gold and feeding his fragile ego.
The large cast of 20, (including) those mentioned, are superb.
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From HISTORY NEWS NETWORK/ Bruce Chadwick:
The superb play was written seventy-five years ago, but feels like it was finished last week. The first act drags a bit but the second soars when the boxing rings and gloves come out of the set designer’s closet.
Seth Numrich is a tenacious Joe Bonaparte. He is a volcano of emotions, all of which explode at different points in the play. He is joined by a collection of gifted actors, led by Danny Mastrogiorgio as Tom Moody, Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna, Danny Burstein as trainer Tokio,Tony Shalhoub (of Monk fame) as Joe’s dad, Lucas Caleb Rooney as his brother, Ned Eisenberg as Roxy Gottlieb, and Anthony Crivello as gangster Joe Fuseli.
Boxers in the 1930s also had to deal with organized crime, as Bonaparte does in the play. The mob muscled (no pun intended) into the boxing world because there was so much money to be made off bookmaking. The boxing world continued to be influenced by organized crime through the 1980s. It was a dirty business.
As a window to a bygone era, boxing fans will love Golden Boy, but with its rich cultural subtext, they won't be the only ones.
[Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News.]
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FROM BROADWAY WORLD:

... solid performances by Yvonne Strahovski as the hard-boiled, leggy blonde, Anthony Crivello as the flashy promoter and Danny Burstein as the good-guy trainer enhance Odets’ colorful jargon.

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FROM: CRITCS AT LARGE online:

From that point on Joe can’t separate out his ambitions as a prizefighter from his feelings for Lorna, who becomes hopelessly conflicted over him. She falls hard for him, but when he tries to get her to leave Tom she can’t: Tom saved her from poverty and despair and she doesn’t have the heart to walk out on him. So Joe’s anger and bitterness escalate, and they coincide with success in the ring and the interest of a gangster named Eddie Fuseli (Anthony Crivello) in getting a piece of his career. (Fuseli, who is Italian himself, likes the idea of an Italian American champ; when he first meets Joe, he talks to him in Italian, creating a hushed paisans’ enclave around the two of them, like Sollozzo chatting up Michael Corleone in the restaurant in The Godfather.)

... And there’s so much superlative acting on offer that, aside from Numrich, Strahovski, Shalhoub and Mastrogiorgio (who bears a striking vocal resemblance to Bobby Cannavale) in the leads, it seems almost unfair to single out other actors. Still, I’d like to say a word about a few more of them. ...
And Anthony Crivello brings considerable wit to the tremendously difficult role of Eddie Fuseli, the homosexual gangster whose fastidiousness carries an unmistakable undercurrent of menace. (That’s the part Elia Kazan played in 1937.) Crivello’s line readings always have a suggestive touch, and when, making Joe his pet project, he showers him with silk shirts, the gesture makes you squirm. The ensemble is flawless. You’d swear they were channeling the original Group Theatre.


– Steve Vineberg is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Humanities at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he teaches theatre and film. He also writes for The Threepenny Review and The Boston Phoenix and is the author of three books: Method Actors: Three Generations of an American Acting Style; No Surprises, Please: Movies in the Reagan Decade; and High Comedy in American Movies.


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From VARIETY:

What are the odds of a commercial producer being able to finance the revival of a three-act straight play calling for some 20 thesps decked out in pricey period costumes and performing on a multi-unit set? That sort of reclamation work is generally left to nonprofit theaters, which operate with publicly assisted funding. A half-dozen years after honoring that mandate with his muscular Lincoln Center revival of Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing," Bartlett Sher returns to the helm with a dynamite version of "Golden Boy." It's no act of charity, either, because the show is killer good.
Once Joe tosses aside the expensive violin that his father scraped and saved to buy him, and climbs into the ring, the fast crowd moves in. The guy who gets the biggest piece of the young fighter is Eddie Fuseli, a big-time gambler played with an attractive air of menace by Anthony Crivello, who gets to wear some gorgeous suits and topcoats. If it weren't for a few devoted supporters like Joe's trainer, Tokio, a beefy bruiser played with gruff tenderness by the wonderful Danny Burstein, the kid would be eaten alive by the human vultures in the fight game.
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From NEW JERSY NEWSROOM:
Bartlett Sher, the director of Lincoln Center Theater’s vivid revival, assembles a marvelous group of 19 actors to bring these people to life. Dressed almost too well by Catherine Zuber, they vibrantly perform the play within settings by Michael Yeargan and moody lighting by Donald Holder that makes every scene beautifully glimmer like a Reginald Marsh painting of 1930s New York.
The production’s exceptional looks are matched by performances that swiftly drive the three-act play like the Deusegolden2boy120612_optnberg roadster that Joe Bonaparte buys with his first winnings. Under Sher’s direction, the actors fearlessly give vent to the heightened language and burning emotions by which Odets transformed a Manhattan melodrama into an American tragedy.
Looking just like a golden boy, Seth Numrich urgently conveys Joe’s changing personality as he fights for the success that eventually sours him on life.
As Lorna Moon, a hard-faced but soft-hearted dame torn between Joe and Tom Moody, his manager, Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski really sounds as if she hails directly from Newark. Strahovski brings a deep sense of sadness to Lorna that softens the character’s brittle personality.
Danny Mastrogiorgio provides a vital presence as a Tom Moody who easily stands up to the dangerous overtures of the gangster, Eddie Fuseli, who is practically operatic in Anthony Crivello’s sinister portrayal. A touching Tony Shalhoub gives Joe’s fruit peddler of a father a ripe Italian accent and a gently melancholy disposition. Quietly exuding empathy as Joe’s trainer, Danny Burstein shares an intimate scene with the fighter that proves his understanding of Joe’s nature.
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From THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE/ AP-

There are also nice turns by Anthony Crivello as a slithery hood, Danny Burstein as Bonaparte's trainer, and Brad Fleischer as a loopy rival boxer — but Strahovski is a revelation.


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From THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS:

The 19 actors in the Lincoln Center revival are so good that you look beyond creaks in the melodrama.

So good they make up for lead-footed scene changes and sets that are too postcard-pristine for the tale of tangled

desires. Adding vivid support in these scenes are: Dagmara Domincyzk and Michael Aronov as Joe’s earthy sister

and her rowdy cab-driver husband; Jonathan Hadary as a wise friend of Joe’s father; Anthony Crivello as a flashy

fight promoter whose interest in Joe extends beyond the ring;


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From TALKING BROADWAY:

Mastrogiorgio, on the other hand, is superb, so much so that Tom almost becomes the fulcrum of the action: He's vivid but conflicted, a take-charge shepherd of others with tunnel vision so advanced he risks getting lost himself. Supporting performers Danny Burstein (as Joe's clear-eyed trainer, Tokio), Anthony Crivello (as the mobster who muscles his way into Joe's success), and Lucas C. Rooney are all likewise excellent, establishing without straining the politically and culturally charged atmosphere that is so crucial to the setting.

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From SCHECKonTHEATER:


Director Bartlett Sher has assembled a superb nineteen-member ensemble for the show, which tells the story of Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich), the son of a widowed Italian immigrant (Tony Shalhoub) who dreams of his son fulfilling his talents as a violinist. Instead, Joe decides to go for the easy money as a prize fighter, despite the risks it poses to his hands. ...
As his father helplessly watches in dismay from the sidelines, Joe quickly succumbs to his vision of the American dream, which in this case includes the complicity of a vicious, dandyish gangster (the compelling Anthony Crivello) who takes an unhealthy interest in his latest acquisition. He eventually indeed rises to the top, but at a tragic personal cost.

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From THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER:

Unlike Tom, fight promoter Roxy Gottlieb (Ned Eisenberg) and Eddie Fuselli (Anthony Crivello), a gangster who buys a controlling stake in Joe and gets an erotic charge out of that ownership, Tokio actually cares about the rising star’s well-being.
This is juicy stuff, ...
Singling out other cast members seems a disservice to the flawless ensemble as a whole. But Mastrogiorgio finds subtle shadings in Tom’s mix of savvy and insecurity; Crivello oozes quiet, elegant menace; the invaluable Burstein makes Tokio an uncommonly tender figure in a harsh milieu; and Strahovski, an Australian actress best known for her television work in NBC’s Chuck and Showtime’sDexter, makes a striking Broadway debut. Playing a role originated by Frances Farmer, Strahovski looks smashing in Zuber’s sharp ‘30s suits, nailing both the brittle façade and the longing for genuine feeling that grows as Lorna is pulled between Tom and Joe.
With its cast of 19 and running time of close to three hours, Golden Boy belongs to a breed of American drama rarely seen in major productions in this age of the small-company, single-set economy. Sher and his actors allow Odets’ words to breathe and his characters to acquire three-dimensional form. The result is majestic theater.

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From THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Throughout this blistering Lincoln Center Theater production, directed by Bartlett Sher and featuring a superb cast of almost 20 actors — a rare feast on Broadway these days — we watch in anguished anticipation as Joe struggles with a defining question..

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
A scene from "Golden Boy" at the Belasco Theater. More Photos »
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http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/12-2012/seth-numrich-tony-shalhoub-yvonne-strahovski-score_63908.html
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From USA TODAY --------- See picture below:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2012/12/05/golden-boy-broadway-review/1742223/

Barlett Sher directs a stellar cast in a dazzling production of Clifford Odets' play.

The play has virtues ... I'm not as enthused as some of the other reviewers but there's room for difference... Thanks, Yvonne

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