A Little Bit of Sunshine
On Sunday, I went to the Ahmundson to see Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys that stars Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch. There's a fun treat at the end of all this, that came out of left field even to me, but first on to the show.
The production It extremely very entertaining, and DeVito and Hirsch were terrific individually and, not surprisingly, together. Though honestly I think they were miscast, which was my concern going in, and why I hadn't gotten tickets earlier in the run. But they do work wonderfully together. And the script is so funny and touching that it's all a pleasure. I just think it comes off slightly different from what's written. (Danny DeVito, for instance, is 10-15 years younger than the role calls for. And Judd Hirsch, though about the right age, is still pretty vibrant for a man happy to put his past long-behind him, though he does a nice job playing "weaker."). I do think the play is also best-served when it's played characters who are an old Jewish team, though it's not essential. It works regardless, and can be played by anybody, but a comedy duo with that history and culture -- which clearly comes through in the script -- adds a depth to their backstory which is so much a part of the play.
I've noticed that a number of reviewers have called the play a bit dated, but I don't think it is. It's about two old men, long past their prime. If their quips are a bit out of date, it's in large part because they are. More at play here, in these critics' reactions, I think, is that casting issue I reference. There's something wistful and therefore funnier when the two men are the right age. When they're a little bit off, the play is, as well. It's less wistful, and almost more sad. But it's still very funny.
One of the favorite sequences was when the two of them are preparing to rehearse in Willie Clark's (Danny DeVito) apartment. They each “prepare the set,” moving around chairs and stools and desk, totally at odds with the other person, each oblivious to what the other is doing and putting things back.
By the way, if you saw the recent BBC/PBS series, The Hollow Crown, of the four "Henry" Shakespeare plays, the young British woman, Thea Sharrock, who directed Henry V, directed this production (from her British production that DeVito starred in opposite the late, Tony-winning Richard Griffiths, who I worked with in The Naked Gun 2-1/2. A terrific guy.)
After seeing the show, I got into a discussion with a friend about various productions of The Sunshine Boys we'd both seen -- including with the original cast of Jack Albertson and Sam Levene. And it of course got around to the 1974 movie with Walter Matthau and George Buns.
I was a bit more forgiving than he was about Matthau. His performance and makeup do stand out, and pull you out of the film a bit, though I think he did a very good job. It's a shticky performance, though the role of Willie Clark is theatrical, and the character is always over-the-top, and using tricks.having the comparison of a "actually old" George Burns always in front of you. I liked Matthau, but it’s the thing that bothers me about the movie.
But here is the bonus treat which I just came across when checking out the movie version –
It's well-known that Jack Benny was originally cast to play the role of Al Lewis, but when he died, George Burns was hired to replace him. It was his first movie in 36 years, and of course ultimately he famously won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor. (It's definitely the smaller of the two roles, but seriously this isn't a supporting role...)
What I didn't know -- though some of you may have -- is that Phil Silvers was considered for the Willie Clark role. Obviously, the studio decided to have a Move Star name in the film. I had no idea. And Silvers would have been perfect. His lifelong persona was akin to the theatrical, vaudevillian, aggressive Willie. But that’s not the shocker. This is the treat -- I found some of his screen test!
There’s no dialogue in the sequence, and someone put idiotic music in, so I suggest turning your sound off. The scene he's doing here is to prepare for the imminent arrival to his apartment of his longtime estranged former-partner, who he hasn't seen in 11 years.
Here it is. This is who they should have hired.
11/4/2013 11:24:37 am
It would have been nice to have Silvers on film playing a character that wasn't Bilko or "Gene Kelly's Best Friend". If he had done The Sunshine Boys, he might have declined appearing with his daughter on Happy Days; towards the end of his life. Even as a little kid, I'd seen Bilko and Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and it was painful to see him so ill. The casting process for The Sunshine Boys seems odd overall. I can understand passing over Sam Levine, his movie career ended with the studio system (Personally, I'd love to have his Guys and Dolls and The Sunshine Boys performances on film); but why was Jack Albertson skipped over? He was only six years removed from an Oscar win and had a hit TV show, in 1974. They couldn't shoot on Chico and The Man's hiatus? He would have made a more likable Willie Clark than Matthau did, and I like Matthau,
11/4/2013 11:49:55 am
Silvers was also terrific in the film of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum -- I saw him on stage in it, as well, but starring as Pseudolus. I don't think there was any way Jack Albertson would ever have been considered for Willie Clark. First, he did the other role on stage. And second, his being on TV may well have hurt him, being seen as a "TV actor." Besides, once they decided to go with George Burns (or early, Jack Benny), I can't imagine any way a studio would cast the other role with someone who may well have had an even lower movie persona. But he *was* wonderful.
11/4/2013 12:25:23 pm
OK, either IMBD, or my eyes flipped the rolls that Alberson and Levine played on Broadway. Either way, my mistake. Silvers was good in the movie version of Forum. He was pretty much the only one that found a way to excel with a lousy script. Lycus was very much a "Phil Silvers" character. I never had a chance to see him as Pseudolus, but isn't that a "Phil Silvers" part too. Almost Bilko in a toga. Sunshine Boys would have let him stretch and do things on camera that most of his fans hadn't seen him play before.
11/4/2013 03:35:19 pm
No, you were right, it's my mea culpa. Jack Albertson *did* play Willie Clark, as you noted. That said, I can't imagine any studio hiring for the movie.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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