The Performers - Longacre Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by David West Read, Directed by Evan Cabnet
Review based on late preview.
Looking for a fun and frivolous night at the theatre that is heartwarming and uncontroversial? The new play The Performers, about porn stars at the Adult Film Awards in Las Vegas will likely fill that hole. Written by Canadian David West Read with his Broadway debut, this new play lands on Broadway in virgin territory, making its world premiere, with Henry Winkler stripping away his wholesome Happy Days image by playing a legendary porn star who is up against a younger beefcake in Cheyenne Jackson (Finian's Rainbow, 30 Rock). It's not a deep or penetrating play, but there are some laughs, and the terrific cast go hard and come through with a solid evening of fun.
The play itself is a bit light on plot and a trifle of a show, with the plot relying on lots of misunderstandings and mixups when a journalist Lee (Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange, Shrek) and his fiance Sara (Alicia Silverstone) are in Las Vegas to interview Lee's high school classmate, and nominated porn star Mandrew (Jackson). Meanwhile Mandrew is having problems with his wife Peeps (Ari Graynor, For A Good Time Call) because she's having a fit over her former BFF/porn rival Sundown (Jenni Barber). All while Mandrew is up against aging porn idol Chuck Wood (Henry Winkler). Breakup and makeups abound, but really it is all an excuse to have dildos used as jokes and Cheyenne Jackson dressed in barely anything, which I'm not criticizing at all! There are a lot of amusing cock and boob jokes but it never gets too dirty, and the satirizing of the industry and the mainstreams secret love for porn, never goes deeper than the surface.
Jackson returns to Broadway playing a likable dimwit which he seems to excel at (Xanadu), all while showing us that he definitely still works out and looks great even with cheesy porn hair.
Graynor, who singlehandedly charms with titillating sweetness and saves For A Good Time Call, does the same here but ups the titillation. Anytime she's in the room, there's definite excitement in the air, and her performance alone is worth seeing this play for.
Silverstone plays cute and along with a wide-eyed Breaker, gets to react shockingly at the porn world that surrounds them on their Vegas trip.
Jenni Barber, in a smaller role, still manages to illicit some big laughs to match her big (prosthetic I hope) boobs in the limited time she's on stage.
And The Fonz? Winkler looks like he's enjoying himself on stage, though I'm not sure I totally buy the seemingly wholesome Winkler as a legendary porn star but it's still an amusing notion. It's never milked quite enough considering the potential that is built into the character, but the entire premise of the play never quite rises to its full potential. Luckily, the game cast work hard to keep things up and running. The play takes place within the confines of a Vegas hotel, switching between two rooms, a lounge area, and the awards ceremony itself, but the play seems to work best during the scenes in the hotel rooms. Apropo. Or should I say Apornpo?
Photos by Carol Rosegg
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