Matching the need for speed in everything we do, it seem that most plays today are less than two hours long with no intermission and a tiny cast. Often, it takes me longer to travel to the theater in New York from Connecticut than to see the work on stage. Lincoln Center Theater is bravely bucking that trend by presenting the meaty” Golden Boy,” written by Clifford Odets in 1937. By the way, it is playing at The Belasco, where it originally received raves from critics and audiences 75 years ago! Odets was a member of Harold Clurman's illustrious, revolutionary Group Theatre, which believed that the theater should reflect real people facing the issues of the times. It was made into a musical, starring Sammy Davis. Jr., on Broadway in 1965. (“This is the Life” was the only hit song.)
The well-chosen cast of over 20-- can you imagine 20 in a drama? --is directed brilliantly by Bartlett Sher, so that the almost three hour story with two intermissions remains intense and gripping. The problem lies in choosing nominations from so many outstanding actors and those who offer technical support: Michael Yeragan’s set design, Donald Holder’s murky lighting, Catherine Zuber's meticulously designed clothes and B.H. Barry's challenging fighting are all top flight. “Golden Boy’ is clearly an ensemble piece with stand-out parts.
The action takes place in New York City. Seth Numrich, who was the star of Broadway's “War Horse”, combines Paul Newman's handsome vulnerability with an innocent cockiness in the role of the just-turning 21 Joe Bonaparte. Joe is a fine violinist. However, like the playwright, who struggled between writing for stage and film, he is torn. Joe wants more out of life, particularly money, and takes the opportunity to box as a welterweight, knowing it is not what his father, an Italian immigrant, would want. Played beautifully by Tony Shaloub, who enriches the show with a heart and soul, Mr. Bonaparte has bought a new violin for his son's birthday and cannot condone Joe's behavior and lifestyle.
Joe's manager, Tom Moody, a strutting, very good Danny Mastrogiorgio, is all business. Married, he's carrying on an affair with his secretary, Lorna Moon, the beautiful Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski, who is a dead ringer for Naomi Watts. She is one of the wonderful discoveries in this show. Joe's winning prizefights will provide the money for Tom's divorce. Meanwhile Joe gets a huge crush on Lorna, who claims she is Newark tramp, and this causes terrible problems for them all.
The supporting cast is fine and some you will recognize from many other roles they have played: Danny Burstein is Tokio, Joe's ever-caring trainer; Jonthan Hadary is Mr. Carp, who is always spouting philosophy from Schopenhauer; Michael Aronov is Joe's brother-in-law Ziggie, who yearns for a taxi cab; and last, but not least, Anthony Crivello, the typical mob-like investor, Eddie Fuseli, looking “mahvelous,” if not a little over the top with the accent.
The scenes move from Joe's family apartment to the boxing rings where actors are shown in various states of undress, pounding and punching.” Golden Boy” is a slice of realism that ends in tragedy for another fighter who is killed in the ring and for Joe and Lorna. A must-see at The Belasco Theatre on Broadway.