Posts Tagged ‘broadway bound’

Broadway Bound
by Neil Simon
Directed by Alan Knoll
New Jewish Theatre
January 19, 2023

Bob Harvey, Spencer Kruse, Jenni Ryan, Jacob Flekier
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The latest production from the New Jewish Theatre is something of a family reunion. Broadway Bound is Neil’s Simon’s well-known conclusion to his acclaimed semi-autobiographical “Eugene Trilogy”. NJT produced the first of the series, Brighton Beach Memoirs, in 2019, and has brought back the director, Alan Knoll, three key cast members, and some of the design team for the continuation of the story of Simon’s fictional avatar, Eugene Jerome, and his family. As with the first production, this one showcases its impressive cast in a remarkable way as Simon’s memorable blend of humor and poignancy takes the stage.

Where Brighton Beach focused on Eugene as a young teenager and emerging writer, Broadway Bound features the character as a young adult trying to break into the new and exciting world of television comedy in the late 1940s. Jacob Flekier returns to the role as a likable narrator and focus character, as Eugene and his older brother Stanley (Spencer Kruse, also returning) strive to make their dreams come true as they work on sketches and try to get a job as writers at CBS, and Eugene is caught up in the excitement of a new relationship with a young woman he hopes to marry. The play also updates the story of Eugene’s parents, and especially his mother, Kate (Jenni Ryan), who finds herself in a difficult situation as her marriage to her husband Jack (Chuck Brinkley once again) appears to be in trouble, and her aging father, Ben (Bob Harvey) resists pleas from Kate and her now-wealthy sister Blanche (Christina Rios) to join their mother in moving to Florida for the sake of his health. The story deals with changing relationships, family expectations, hopes and dreams for the future, memories and regrets from the past, and more, with a tone that ranges from character-focused comedy to poignant drama. It’s a rich, fascinating portrayal of a family at a pivotal moment in their lives, and one of Simon’s more celebrated later works. 

This being a sequel, the production at NJT is especially effective if you saw the earlier production Brighton Beach Memoirs as well, since several elements of that production are revisited here, starting with an excellent re-creation of the meticulously realistic set by Margery and Peter Spack, which is identical to the earlier set, except for a few differences in decoration reflecting the 12-year time difference between the stories. Michele Friedman Siler also returns as costume designer, outfitting the characters in detailed, suitably evocative period attire. Lighting designer Kimberly Klearman Petersen has based the design for this production on that of previous designer Micahel Sullivan, with credible atmospheric effect. There’s also impressive work from sound designer Kareem Deanes (new for this production) and choreographer Ellen Isom, adding to the mood of the show’s most memorable scene, which is also superbly acted by Ryan and Flekier. 

The casting is first-rate, from the returning players as well as the newcomers. Flekier, as before, makes an engaging, relatable Eugene, and his relationships with all of the other cast members are excellent and believable. Kruse is also strong as the ambitious, nervously energetic Stanley. There are also strong turns from Rios as the caring, well-off but insecure Blanche, Harvey as the crusty, politically-minded Ben, and Brinkley in a difficult role as the disillusioned, secretive Jack, whose scenes with Ryan’s Kate are an emotionally-charged highlight. As for Ryan, she’s giving perhaps the best performance I’ve seen from her as the conflicted, devoted Kate, whose scenes with Flekier’s Eugene are especially convincing and moving. 

Broadway Bound is a thoughtful, memorably staged production that revisits both characters and performers from the earlier production with a few new twists and additions. It’s a welcome reunion and revisitation, with an especially strong cast, and a technical production that’s both impressive and realistic. It’s one of Simon’s more “serious” stories, but with a good dose of humor and hope. Even if you didn’t catch Brighton Beach Memoirs, this is a show that’s well worth seeing. 

Jenni Ryan, Chuck Brinkley
Photo by Jon Gitchofff
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting Broadway Bound at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre until February 5, 2023

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