Enter the Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a political convention. Ushers are wearing those red and white ribbon straw hats and the setting is all around you with banners and posters. Old fashion television sets are on each side of the stage and a broadcaster with several monitors sits in one of the upper boxes. It is a performance of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.
It’s July of 1960 during what would be the Presidential Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The political party (which is never revealed) consists of a Former President Arthur “Artie” Hockstader (James Earl Jones), Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge, Chairman of the Women’s Division (Angela Landsbury) and Senator Clyde Carlin (Dakin Matthews).
Then there are the candidates: Secretary William Russell (John Larroquette), Alice Russell, his wife (Candice Bergen), Dick Jensen, his campaign manager (Michael McKean), Catherine, a campaign aide (Angelica Page), Senator Joseph Cantwell (Eric McCormack), Mabel Cantwell, his wife (Kerry Butler), and Cantwell’s campaign manager, Don Blades (Corey Brill).
The race theme is Russell vs. Cantwell. We first get to find that Russell and his wife have not been getting along for several years (separate bedrooms and more), but the press is present and it’s time to join forces for the presidency. At one point the plot pits the two candidates with what each believes will be the reason for the other to drop out of the race and give the votes to the other. An egotistic Cantwell digs into Russell’s past to find emotional breakdowns while Russell is able to find information regarding Cantwell’s rumors of his life in the armed forces, revealed by a former buddy Sheldon Marcus (Jefferson Mays).
Let’s begin with the cast. Landsbury, Jones, and Bergen have certainly aged, but their acting abilities have not dwindled. Jones has been given that wonderful outspoken character and runs with it. Larroquette has the humorous role that fits him so well. Yes, humor. The show is quite funny.
Timing is perfect for The Best Man, which was performed several years ago. It could just as well be the present Republican Convention going on. The setting puts us viewing the hotel rooms of the candidates, where we get a glimpse of their personal lives, and how they present themselves to the press.
Kudos has to go to Director Michael Wilson and Set Designer Derek McLane as well as the casting director. The question is whether this play would work as well without an all-star cast? With so many Broadway shows to choose from, it was a smart thing to do. As for the play itself, it did keep my interest and titillated my humor. I expect some nominations for The Best Man, a Broadway show not to be missed.