By John Baggett
According to Google Maps, it would take 21 hours and 55 minutes to drive from Tyler Civic Theatre to Broadway in New York City. However, if you step inside of Tyler Civic Theatre, you’re only “45 Seconds from Broadway.” (See what I did there?)
“45 Seconds from Broadway” is the latest production running at Tyler Civic Theatre. The show is set in a coffee shop located in the lobby of a hotel that is walking distance from the Broadway theatres. The place is owned by Bernie (David Stein) and Zelda (Tana Switsky), a husband and wife who have helped make the small restaurant a home away from home for struggling actors, as well as some other professionals. One of the regulars is comedian Mickey Fox (Ron Ellis), a Borscht Belt style comic, who is both a legend in his own mind and the minds of a few others. We meet Mickey as he meets with Andrea (Alyssa Duke), a producer wanting to bring him to London in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
We also meet Solomon Mantutu (Mishobi Johnson), a South African teacher who has come to New York to finish, and get someone to read (or publish), his play. Solomon becomes a pain in the neck for Bernie as he came to the restaurant with not enough money to pay for his meal and turns his small diner check into something of a life debt when Bernie makes his meal free in order to get him to leave. He hires Solomon as a temporary waiter, mostly to help take care of the bizarrely dressed and eccentric Rayleen (DeAnna Hargrove) and her patient and very quiet husband Charles (Juan Munoz).
Rounding out the cast of characters are Megan (Morgan Robbins) – a young girl whose mother was a an aspiring actress that Bernie helped out, Arlene (Saskia Lynge) and Cindy (Joanna Gifford) – two friends that attend and comment on all of the shows playing, Bessie (Judy Griffin) – a seasoned actress who flirts with Mickey, and Harry (Heath Huffstetter) – Mickey’s older and less successful brother.
“45 Seconds from Broadway” was written by Neil Simon, the theatre legend best known for “The Odd Couple” and “The Goodbye Girl.” The Civic Theatre production was directed by Amanda Ratliff, who recently took the stage in “The Great Gatsby.” This is one of Simon’s more recent plays, having debuted in 2001, but despite a reference to modern life here and there, it could have been set at any time. The show doesn’t have a main storyline, but instead multiple mini arcs for these characters with Mickey and Bernie being the closest thing the production has to main characters.
The play is frequently funny, with much of the dialogue being one-liners. It also has some wonderful drama mixed in, causing you to laugh at characters in one moment, only for them to break your heart later. The cast is terrific, most of them hilarious, with Duke and Hufstetter mostly playing the straight man characters to Mickey. This isn’t a criticism of them, both performances are great, their characters just don’t get the comic moments other characters get. The film has a mix of fantasy and science-fiction . It features angels and scenes with fishermen chasing phantom fish. It is also a psychedelic film. I have had the pleasure of seeing both in previous shows, and it is always a delight to see their names in a cast list.
Ellis and Stein, our leads, if you will, are terrific. They capture the spirit of New York archetypes very well. Stein, unfortunately had lost his voice to a cold, but somehow the rasp so seemed to fit his character, I’d almost suggest he keep it if it wouldn’t wreck his throat. Hargrove gets many a laugh and most of the heartfelt moments, with Munoz, in a debut performance that may not be of many words but has a big presence.
Lynge and Gifford take two characters that, if it were a real diner, could be the obnoxious customers one tries to avoid, but are an absolute delight to watch and became some of my favorite characters in the show. Switsky, who was just seen in “I Hate Hamlet,” is marvelous as Zelda, as is Robbins in her fresh off the bus, wide eyed star in the making. Johnson’s Solomon is wonderful and comes very close to stealing any scene he is in. Finally, Griffin is always a delight, and this performance is no exception.
“45 Seconds from Broadway” is a fun (and funny) slice of life that is absolutely a love letter to New York City and theater. It’s a show that will make you laugh, try to make you cry, but leave you with a smile on your face. It opened February 3rd and runs through February 12th.
Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://tylercivictheatre.com/