The Royal Family of Broadway, based on the lives of the Barrymores, has a royal pedigree – based on a play written by George S. Kaufman (playwright of You Can’t Take It with You) and Edna Ferber (author of Show Boat), adapted by Richard Greenberg (playwright of Take Me Out), with book and lyrics by Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn (creators of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.) It took a lot of renowned theater personalities to get this to the stage – and if you love theater, this is the show for you.
Fanny Cavendish (Harriet Harris) is the matriarch of the great Cavendish theater dynasty; she and her late husband were stars, and now it’s 1927, and her daughter Julie (Laura Michelle Kelly), son Tony (Will Swenson) and granddaughter Gwen (Hayley Podschun) have taken up the mantle, as well as (and not as successfully) her brother Bert (Arnie Butler) and his wife Kitty (Kathryn Fitzgerald). Things start to fall apart when both Julie and Gwen choose love over the stage; Tony, beset by scandal, leaves the country, and Bert and Kitty’s latest show is a flop. Fanny is determined to find a way to keep the Cavendish legacy alive on the Broadway stage.
Talk about a full-blown musical extravaganza. Alexander Dodge’s sets are huge and lavish, dropping and moving in and out for different scenes (the grand staircase does, however, cause a bit of worry as it wobbles and wheels when it’s not supposed to); the costumes, designed by Alejo Vietti, are utterly sumptuous, sparkling 1920s art deco masterpieces that are so eye-catching under the lights. This show is such a love letter to the theater, and it’s obvious in every single choice made.
Harris claims the stage as Fanny; she’s a glorious grand dame, witty, acerbic and powerful. Her “Stupid Things I Won’t Do” was a highlight. Kelly has a gorgeous voice and dances beautifully – her “Just Another Regular Night/Listen to the Beat” to kick off the show brought down the house – but was a bit flat as an actress, as was Alan H. Green, playing Gil, her ex; I wanted a bit more from them than just being able to hit their marks and notes. Podschun was a breath of fresh air as the young, spritely Gwen, and her scenes with A.J. Shively, as her fiancé Perry, were full of joy – they had wonderful chemistry. Swenson was hilariously over-the-top as Tony, while Butler and Fitzgerald were matched perfectly; the two of them brought laughs throughout, but their “Avaunt, Avaunt” to open Act II was killer.
This is a fun show, and total eye candy, but it’s not much of a memorable one; unlike Spelling Bee, it’s not a show I’d want to see repeatedly, and it doesn’t have any songs (like Spelling Bee’s “The I Love You Song,” for example) that strike you as an immediate hit. There’s nothing objectionable – it’s very pleasant and fun – but it’s also not a standout; with such a strong pedigree, I was expecting more.
“The Royal Family of Broadway”; Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA; through July 7; $75-$15; Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 413-236-8888; https://barringtonstageco.org/