You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


Is it worth ponying up at the Ahmanson for the national tour of Peter Morgan's "Frost/Nixon," in the wake of 2008's pic version? You bet -- first and foremost for absorption in the themes only rattling around within the movie but brought front and center here.

Richard Nixon - Stacy Keach David Frost - Alan Cox

Is it worth ponying up at the Ahmanson for the national tour of Peter Morgan’s “Frost/Nixon,” in the wake of 2008’s pic version? You bet — first and foremost for absorption in the themes only rattling around within the movie but brought front and center here. Los Angeles playgoers will further enjoy two superb stage actors with very different takes on the titular celeb interviewer and disgraced chief exec, as well as an exciting introduction to one of Britain’s most ingenious helmers, Michael Grandage.

 Onstage and screen alike, there’s scintillating fun to be had as David Frost’s irresistible force meets Richard Nixon’s immovable object in a series of videotaped memoirs. Their scrambles are less akin to high-level discourse than to sumo wrestling: Nixon’s GOP handlers are angling for his accelerated rehabilitation, while Frost’s team of liberal ideologues seek to convict the pardoned pol in the court of public opinion, or at least force an unprecedented confession.

But film’s intimacy and realism sent pic helmer Ron Howard into the psychological realm, subtly anatomizing Nixon’s mood swings and inviting us to care whether Frost would be on the personal hook for $2 million if ad support for the interviews couldn’t be found.

The stage production echoes the President’s snort at the prospect of delving into “Nixon the man”: “Spare me.” Grandage is after more grandeur, eschewing psychological probing to dramatize (not just mention) Morgan’s central thesis about the curious intersection of politics and mass media. The satire is discernible in the very set, as the eye consistently travels up to the images on Christopher Oram’s giant video wall and away from the “miniaturized” actors performing below.

Show’s Frost and Nixon are types, not facsimiles — although Alan Cox absolutely nails the plummy diction, plosive nouns and pretentiousness for which the real-life broadcaster was detested on three continents. This Frost carries show business in his bones, all fist-in-the-air gestures and knees-bent posturing. He’s Anderson Cooper, he’s Prof. Harold Hill, not to be deterred; the only question is how he’ll win out.

Other characters may see Frost as the tortoise in the race with Nixon’s hare, but we never underestimate this smooth dude, so keenly do we feel celebrity’s power and even magic.

At the same time, it matters not a whit that little of the actual waning-years statesman can be discerned in the beefy, basso Stacy Keach. What the thesp provides in spades is what the script needs: the utter self-confidence and white-heat anger of an old-style politico, about to be blindsided by the camera.

Indeed, Keach’s dissimilarity to Nixon allows him to stand in for every preening fat cat who ever thought himself wily enough to outfox the tube’s power. He’s Mayor Daley Sr. or Marion Barry; heck, he’s Rod Blagojevich, and even die-hard Nixon fans can delight in his comeuppance as they mentally substitute their own favorite blowhard.

Other players fall short of the stars’ standard, though Stephen Rowe (one of four vets of the Gotham engagement) is a coolly persuasive Swifty Lazar and a spot-on Mike Wallace; and Brian Sgambati’s Jim Reston avoids smugness to hunt down arch-enemy Nixon with copious charm.

But in showbiz as in politics, the topliners are the thing. Keach and Cox’s playing crackles with energy from the startup negotiations through the early exchanges between interrogator and subject. The fictional late-night phone call between a drunken Nixon and exhausted Frost — played for poignancy in the film as the turning point in the host’s character arc — here resembles a clash of titans staking out their claims before the final showdown.

By the time Frost produces the smoking gun from which Nixon cannot retreat, the audience is bubbling with laughter even before the punchlines arrive. (The show is paced like a whirlwind.) But the mirth stops short for Grandage’s final coup, as he employs a closeup, for the first time all evening, to encapsulate history within a single, shattering image.

This kinetic demonstration of TV’s reductive power captures a thrill the otherwise estimable cinematic “Frost/Nixon,” with its closeups throughout, is denied, and renders this stage revisitation — for media junkies especially — unmissable.

Popular on Variety


Ahmanson Theater; 1,592 seats; $100 top

Production: A Center Theater Group presentation of an Arielle Tepper Madover, Independent Presenters Network, Broadway Across America production, in association with Fox Theatricals, Mary Lu Roffe, Robert G. Bartner, Debra Black, Lauren Doll, Ruth Hendel, Barbara Whitman, of the Donmar Warehouse production of a play in one act by Peter Morgan. Directed by Michael Grandage.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Christopher Oram; lighting, Neil Austin; composer and sound designer, Adam Cork; video designer, Jon Driscoll; production stage manager, J.P. Elins. Opened, reviewed March 12, 2009. Runs through March 29. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast: Richard Nixon - Stacy Keach David Frost - Alan CoxWith: Meghan Andrews, Bob Ari, Antony Hagopian, Peter Hilton, Roxanna Hope, Ted Koch, Tamara Lovatt-Smith, Stephen Rowe, Brian Sgambati, David Sitler, Noel Velez.

More Legit

  • The Inheritance review

    Broadway Review: 'The Inheritance'

    The real hero of “The Inheritance,” Matthew Lopez’s thoughtful, moving and painfully funny play, is E.M. Forster, the celebrated English author of “Howards End,” “A Room with a View,” “A Passage to India,” and “Maurice,” that last a gay-themed novel published after his death in 1970. It’s quite the literary thrill to find the great [...]

  • Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works

    Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works as a Movie From Heyday, BBC Films

    David Heyman’s Heyday Films, whose credits include “Gravity,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story” and the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and BBC Films have secured the film rights to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical “Follies.” “Follies” will be adapted for the screen and directed by Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier [...]

  • Tina Turner The Musical

    How 'Tina: The Tina Turner Musical' Tells the Icon's Traumatic Story

    It wasn’t the response Tali Pelman had hoped to receive. The group creative managing director of Stage Entertainment had traveled to Küsnacht, Switzerland, with one goal in mind: Convince Tina Turner that her life could be the stuff of a successful stage musical. “We walked in the door,” Pelman remembers. “Tina was already there, and she greeted [...]

  • Ben McKenzie

    'Gotham' Star Ben McKenzie to Make Broadway Debut in 'Grand Horizons'

    “Gotham” star Ben McKenzie will make his Broadway debut in Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” He joins a cast that includes Oscar nominees Jane Alexander (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Great White Hope”) and James Cromwell (“Babe,” “L.A. Confidential”). The show has a strictly limited 10-week run and begins previews on Dec. 23, 2019, before officially opening [...]

  • The Great Society review

    Listen: Brian Cox on 'Succession,' Shakespeare, and the Crisis We're In

    Brian Cox is having a pop-culture moment with “Succession,” the buzzy HBO series in which he stars. But he’s also an accomplished theater actor with plenty of experience doing Shakespeare — and it serves him well in both “Succession” and in his current Broadway show, “The Great Society.” Listen to this week’s podcast below: Cox [...]

  • Scooby Doo Ella Louise Allaire Martin

    Scooby-Doo Live Theater Tour Is Goofy Dane's Latest Adventure

    From its 1969 start as a Saturday morning kids mystery cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” starring its titular, talking Great Dane and his four teenaged friends, has made adventure its staple. Once Hanna-Barbera’s successor, Warner Bros. Animation, took the leash, Scooby and company became a comic book, a board game, a series of video [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content