A Catered Affair @ Walter Kerr Theatre, New York

cast list
Matt Cavenaugh
Harvey Fierstein
Philip Hoffman
Katie Klaus
Leslie Kritzer
Heather Mac Rae
Faith Prince
Lori Wilner
Tom Wopat
Kristine Zbornik

directed by
John Doyle
For a few brief moments, one could almost believe all the world’s regret was contained in the knotted-up face of Faith Prince, poised in the orange-yellow glow of the sunrise on her Bronx fire escape in this season’s John Doyle-directed gem, A Catered Affair.

You see, Prince plays dowdy Aggie Hurley, a proud woman of limited means, trapped in what she fears is a loveless marriage to her cab-driver husband Tom. It’s 1953, and they’ve both just lost their son, a soldier in the Army. They return home from the memorial service in Washington, D.C. to be greeted by a sergeant bearing a folded flag and a death benefit check of undisclosed value. Meanwhile her daughter Janey, played magnificently by Legally Blonde standout Leslie Kritzer, and her fiance Ralph are getting married in a hurry and driving cross-country to California. Aggie wants to use the money for her daughter’s wedding, to “start her off right,” while Tom has the opportunity to buy a share in the cab he’s been driving for years and doesn’t want to let his one chance pass him by.

As portrayed by Faith Prince, the character of Aggie is as multitiered as the wedding cake she dreams of for her daughter. “A girl has dreams, but a woman can only sigh,” Aggie sings in her reprise of the song Married, one of the show’s most memorable tunes. Ultimately, however, she realizes that love mustn’t die and money isn’t everything. Conclusions like these are far from earth-shattering, but their presentation here is lovely and affecting. Hers is the character with the most satisfying emotional journey, and the way the show tackles the subject of middle-aged love and waning passion is one of its most adroit successes.

Tom Wopat and Harvey Fierstein co-star as Aggie’s husband Tom and Aggie’s confirmed bachelor (read gay) brother Winston respectively. Wopat plays the tension of his marriage to Aggie well, while sometimes allowing his gruff manner to get the better of him. Fierstein, a less-than-fine singer who also penned the show’s book, provides, through his throaty hemming and hawing, some necessary comic relief. Though Fierstein has obviously written the character of Janey’s sagely gay uncle as a provocative twist on the conventions of the 1950s, when matters of sexuality were hardly so out in the open, however, the character seems mostly hackneyed and out of place, tacked on rather than organic to the story.

Considering the gray hues of the lives in question, this material hardly screams “Broadway” in the traditional song-and-dance sense of the word (in fact, there’s little dancing to speak of, save between the bride and groom), but its earnest cast, crisp writing, and smart direction make it worthy of attention.

It’s a credit to the directorial skills of John Doyle that the material is allowed to breathe the way it does. Especially during Aggie’s emotional moments toward the end of the piece, the pacing is appropriately languid and pitch-perfect, allowing an enraptured audience to linger over Fierstein’s carefully considered dialogue. The placement of Aggie and Tom’s son’s flag on the kitchen table throughout much of the proceedings is also an especially thoughtful touch.

Scenic design by David Gallo and masterful projections by Zachary Borovay complement the sense of gritty realism established by Fierstein’s book and John Bucchino’s serviceable, tuneful, but mostly forgettable score, which utilizes a mix of sensitive ballads and recitative-style patter. For the most part, the stage is consumed by brick housefronts and fire escapes and hung laundry, with momentary stops at the banquet hall, the dress shop, and finally to Coney Island on the way to the musical’s quietly optimistic conclusion.

In catching up with a host of current Broadway shows, I thankfully stumbled upon this worthy musical, based on the 1956 Gore Vidal-penned film, then titled The Catered Affair, which was in turn based on a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky. In a sea of shows where production values spell box office success sits this show like a pearl of genuine feeling. Even if you leave humming the story more so than the songs, for my money, I’d take this simply-adorned wedding cake of a show over a number of other treacle-topped monstrosities on Broadway any day. So grab your something borrowed and your something blue, and make your way to the Walter Kerr before it’s too late. I guarantee you’ll fall in love.

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