You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘Present Laughter’ With Kevin Kline, Cobie Smulders

Kevin Kline, Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, Cobie Smulders, Tedra Millan, Matt Bittner, Ellen Harvey, Peter Francis James, Bhavesh Patel, Reg Rogers, Sandra Shipley.

Whatever would we do without Kevin Kline? In an age of lesser stars, he’s a bona fide matinee idol of the ideal age and with the urbane sensibility to do justice to sophisticated scribes like Noel Coward. “Present Laughter” is a delicious drawing-room comedy that Coward dashed off in 1942 to amuse himself and his friends, while engaging in a bit of sober self-reflection. Kline relishes the comic challenge in this snazzy production directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel.

To begin with, Kline looks the part of Garry Essendine, an aging but still seductive roué who leaves the ladies weak at the knees. Although never ridiculous, he’s genuinely funny, this handsome, narcissistic baby who’s terrified of being alone but complains loudly at the hordes of visitors who descend on the handsome London townhouse so tastefully designed by David Zinn. However chaotic the manic events unfolding in his living room, he automatically pauses to glance at a mirror before leaving the room — a small but significant staging detail that pays off with a terrific sight gag.

Keeping to the visuals for a moment, costumer Susan Hilferty has furnished the star with some perfectly lovely dressing gowns and smoking jackets, all very appropriate for an age when dressing gowns and smoking jackets were de rigueur for fashionable men who entertained women after dark.  Repaying the compliment, Kline makes a meal out of slipping out of one elegant robe and into another. His timing on this brief comic turn, by the way, is impeccable.

What makes Garry so endearing is that he never questions himself, but accepts the world’s adulation as his due. “Everybody worships me, it’s nauseating,” he says, without irony.  The young ones, too. When the show opens, twenty-something Daphne Stillington (Tedra Millan, a looker) is wandering around the living room in a state of dishabille, after spending the night in the spare room better known as the seduction parlor.

For the rest of the play, Garry has to navigate his way through all his visitors — who include his manager, Morris (Reg Rogers), his producer, Henry (Peter Francis James), his ex-wife, Liz (Kate Burton), and current paramour, Joanna (Cobie Smulders), who’s “a lovely creature, but tricky,” according to Liz. Smulders has a graceful, Cowardian air in the role, and makes Susan Hilferty’s costumes look even more fabulous.

Director von Stuelpnagel, who flashed his flair for comedy in “Hand to God,” has assembled a cast of reliable pros who know the drill so well they could pace it out in their sleep. The lesser-skilled younger actors should study the technique of these veterans and bless their lucky stars for the opportunity to do so. Kristine Nielsen, who plays Garry’s secretary, Monica Reed, constitutes a master class. (The drawn-out pauses … the salty line readings … the sly double-takes … the comic cadences — pure heaven!)

The action turns farcical when an ambitious young playwright named Roland Maule (Bhavesh Patel) barges in and refuses to leave until Garry critiques his play.  But for a moment, the play also turns semi-serious.

“What you don’t realize is that the theater of the future is the theater of ideas,” this young whippersnapper lectures Garry, after having scolded him for acting in frivolous fluff.  “If you wish to be a playwright, go and get yourself a job as a butler in a repertory company,” Garry shoots back. “Learn from the ground up how plays are constructed, what is actable and what isn’t.  Then sit down and write at least 20 plays one after the other, and if you can manage to get the 21st produced for a Sunday night performance, you’ll be goddamned lucky.”

Coward has said that “Present Laughter” was the most autobiographical of his plays, so Garry’s advice should be taken at face value.  In the same way, Garry’s disarming admissions of frailty — his fear of growing old, of losing his magnetic appeal, of being alone and unwanted — run like a rushing underground river beneath the farcical fun. It seems that Coward, the most successful actor-playwright of his time, was human, after all.

Popular on Variety

Broadway Review: 'Present Laughter' With Kevin Kline, Cobie Smulders

St. James Theater; 1397 seats; $145 top. Opened April 5, 2017. Reviewed March 31. Running time: TWO HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production: A presentation by Jordan Roth, Jujamcyn Theaters, Spencer Ross, A C Orange Entertainment, Ltd., Eric Falkenstein, Grove Entertainment, Bruce Robert Harris & Jack W. Batman, Stephanie P. McClelland, Harbor Entertainment, Joe Everett Michaels / Robert F. Ryan, and Daryl Roth of a play in two acts by Noel Coward.

Creative: Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. Set, David Zinn; costumes, Susan Hilferty; lighting, Justin Townsend; sound, Fitz Patton; hair, Josh Marquette; production stage manager, James Fitzsimmons.

Cast: Kevin Kline, Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, Cobie Smulders, Tedra Millan, Matt Bittner, Ellen Harvey, Peter Francis James, Bhavesh Patel, Reg Rogers, Sandra Shipley.

More Legit

  • 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” [...]

  • Laurel Griggs

    Laurel Griggs, Broadway and 'SNL' Actress, Dies at 13

    Laurel Griggs, who starred in Broadway’s “ONCE the Musical” as Ivanka, has died. She was 13. An obituary posted to Dignity Memorial indicates she died on Nov. 5, and Griggs’ grandfather wrote on Facebook that her death was due to a massive asthma attack. Griggs made her Broadway debut when she was six years old [...]

  • West End celling collapse

    Ceiling Collapse at 'Death of a Salesman' Leads to Theater Closure, Boycott Threats

    The West End revival of “Death of a Salesman” has moved into a temporary space after parts of the ceiling of Piccadilly Theatre collapsed during a Wednesday night performance. Five audience members sustained minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals. The theater will remain closed for the rest of the week. In the meantime, [...]

  • Tina review

    Broadway Review: 'Tina'

    “Now, that’s what I call a Broadway show!” That’s what the stranger sitting next to me at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater yelled into my ear at the roof-raising finale of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” I’d say he nailed it. Call “Tina” a jukebox musical or a bio-musical or anything you want to call it, but [...]

  • Cyrano review Peter Dinklage

    Off Broadway Review: 'Cyrano' Starring Peter Dinklage

    It’s pride and not panache that drives this overly spare and gloomy musical adaptation of that classic tale of unrequited love and honor, “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Despite a mesmerizing performance by Peter Dinklage, hot off “Game of Thrones,” and a haunting score by members of the band The National, this “Cyrano” is so reductive — [...]

  • Armie Hammer

    Armie Hammer, Jessie Mueller to Star in Broadway Production of Tracy Letts' 'The Minutes'

    Armie Hammer and Jessie Mueller will lead the cast of “The Minutes,” the Broadway production of a new play by Tracy Letts. The play seems tailor-made for these politically polarized times. It dissects a particularly contentious city council meeting, one in which the hypocrisy, greed, and ambition of various community members bubbles up to the [...]

  • Lightning Thief Broadway musical

    Listen: How 'The Lightning Thief' Creators Aim to Diversify Broadway

    “The Lightning Thief” doesn’t look like most Broadway musicals. And according to its creators, that’s a good thing. Listen to this week’s podcast below: After all, the musical based on Rick Riordan’s hit series of YA novels can count itself as one of a number of new shows (“Slave Play,” “Be More Chill”) that are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content