Four months after Mike Tyson muscled his way onto a Broadway stage, the bell has rung for another show featuring a boxer. Guess which is better? It's not even close.
A dazzling revival of Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy" opened Thursday, still packing a punch after 75 years. Tyson could do well to watch how to successfully put together a show about the rise and fall of a boxer.
This Lincoln Center Theater production, directed with verve and spark by Bartlett Sher, is appropriately housed at the Belasco Theater, the same place where it premiered in 1937.
Back then, audiences saw Luther Adler play the doomed boxer Joe Bonaparte and Frances Farmer portray his love interest, Lorna Moon. This season, Seth Numrich dons the gloves admirably and Yvonne Strahovski makes a remarkable Broadway debut as Moon.
The three-act play about a young man torn between his natural talent as a violinist and the fast money and fame of being a boxer sounds like it could be a clunky allegory, but Odets layered in some stunning lines and reduced the sappiness by keeping some of the pivotal scenes off the stage.
Tony Shalhoub is a stand-out as Bonaparte's father, a role whose lines are written in broken Italian-accented English which could be a disaster in the wrong hands ("feela good" and "I giva-a you.") But Shalhoub is so skilled that only a deeply felt character emerges.
Numrich, who starred as the young farm boy Albert Narracott in "War Horse," is a nimble former "shrimp with glasses" here, maintaining his air of insecurity despite a toned physique and a solid left hook. The actor nicely does impetuousness and brashness, but also you can feel his inner tumult at betraying his father.
There are also nice turns by Anthony Crivello as a slithery hood, Danny Burstein as Bonaparte's trainer, and Brad Fleischer as a loopy rival boxer — but Strahovski is a revelation.
An Australian more known for TV roles, Strahovski makes as headturning a Broadway debut as another notable blonde, Nina Arianda in the 2011 revival of Garson Kanin's screwball "Born Yesterday." Strahovski nails the accent, the physicality, the vulnerability and the put down: "What exhaust pipe did he crawl out of?" she asks about the slithery hood.
Great sets by Michael Yeargan that include boxing rings populated by sparring, muscular men and realistic tenement buildings and threadbare offices, costumes by Catherine Zuber that are boxy and masculine while always flattering Strahovski, and dim, moody lighting by Donald Holder all contribute to a gloomy gorgeousness.
Sher has embraced the realism of this dark world — the sweat, gore and rushes of blood to the head. There are passionate kisses but always a lingering threat of violence. The place reeks of leather and failure.
Or, as Odets beautifully summed it up: "This boxing racket is a ghost — it's the city dumps with a buncha scrawny pelicans scratching around for bits of food."
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