The Man Who Came to Dinner
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One of the most beloved American comedies comes to sparkling life in this fast-paced, stylish production starring Tony Award-winning Broadway favorite Nathan Lane (The Producers) and Jean Smart (Designing Women)! While dining at the midwestern home of the prominent Stanley family, noted critic and social celebrity Sheridan Whiteside slips on their doorstep and injures his hip, leaving the city slicker confined to the house for an outrageous six week recovery period which leads to cockroach farms, an octopus in the cellar, a dinner party with ex-convicts, "The Penguin" and more madcap mayhem! Written by the classic comedy team of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, this razor sharp farce remains pointed and side-splitting today. Pull up a few extra chairs and invite some guests for dinner and a show; the fun is about to begin!
Nathan Lane practically explodes with bile as Sheridan Whiteside, a tyrannical radio celebrity who has been trapped in a Midwestern household by an injured hip. Whiteside rails entertainingly at the quavering family he's stuck with, but the play really kicks into motion when Whiteside's secretary, the only person who can stand to work with him, falls in love with a local newspaperman, forcing Whiteside to hatch a scheme to keep her by his side. Expertly crafted by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, The Man Who Came to Dinner zooms along. Lane (The Birdcage, Mouse Hunt) plays the part with his personality cranked up to 11--he rattles off each sneering barb with acid bombast. The production was originally broadcast live from Broadway, which gives it a genuine crackle of energy. Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson act as hosts, providing some historical background to this classic comedy. --Bret Fetzer
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There have been some minor changes made along the way in Acts 1 & 2, but changes are much more extensive in Act 3. The character of Banjo is modeled here on Jimmy Durante, who did it in the movie. The film's choice of Durante must have been for contractual reasons, as Harpo Marx (the original stage play's model) was very much alive at the time. I found Durante annoying in the role, not the crazed presence Banjo is in the show.
In any event, this version of the play goes the Durante route, with a heavy re-writing of Act 3 (where Banjo appears). There's long stretches of boredom and a downright tedious sequence shortly after his entrance. Inasmuch as Lewis J. Stadlen is very familiar with the Marx Brothers (he even did a one-man show as Groucho), I don't know why they went this path. The result is a downward spiral that is only saved by Lane and Jean Smart. If the rest of the show were like Act 3, it would get just two (weak) stars. Thankfully, it isn't.
This version is better than the film, but it could have been much better had they stayed with the original concept. Hart and Kaufman knew what they were doing; these folks should have trusted them.
One caveat: The play is filled with quick references to personalities of the period (the 1930s), and most of that might go right over some people's heads. But much of the comedy is timeless, so everyone is bound to enjoy it in the end.
There is more to this DVD than a previous reviewer would have you believe, but only a bit more. In the intermissions, there are some descriptions of the characters and whom they are based on. And there is an enjoyable segment with Kaufman's daughter and Hart's wife (the eternally graceful and charming Kitty Carlisle). The banter between Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson in these segments is weak, however. Essentially you're getting exactly the same thing you would have seen when this was broadcast.
We're fortunate to have had this performance captured on film, and I hope there will be more of the same.
I gave this DVD version of the play 5 stars simply for the scene stealing performance by Byron Jennings. He is truly amazing as Beverley Carlton. This is not to be missed by anyone who appreciates uncommonly gifted acting.
Nathan Lane as Sheridan Whiteside is the perfect foil for him. His line about the Lindbergh baby is hilarious, and Byron Jennings' reaction is well in tune with Nathan Lane's humor. It's rare to watch actors who are so much in sync with each other. Too often a film or play will feature great talent playing opposite mediocre talent. Speaking of which, the actress who plays Sheridan Whiteside's secretary is not of their caliber and detracts from their performance.
The play's greatest weakness is that Mr. Jennings appears in just one scene. Still, it's amazing enough to be worth the cost of purchase.
It's so unfortunate that American film and theater productions place greater value on perfectly photogenic looks, rather than exceptional talent. If only film and theater goers were able to recognize substance and depth of character, they would be able to look beyond the shallowness and one dimensional "acting" that is so routinely foisted on us.
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Also, it is done as a play- not like a regular movie.Read more
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