The Front Page

By Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur

the front page at timeline theatre
The Front Page

 

Directed by Nick Bowling

At TimeLine Theatre, Chicago

Fabulous  classic 20th Century comedy is a rich ensemble work

Leave it to the creative folks at TimeLine Theatre, under Nick Bowling’s free-wheeling direction, to mount a rip-roaring newspaper comedy – The Front Page – filled with rapid-fire, streetwise dialogue and a host of salty veteran reporters waiting for an execution of a murder.  Designer Collette Pollard choose a four-cornered ‘in-the-round’ set featuring one long table with two-piece phone and four working desks that aptly depict the press room a Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building (at 26th and California Avenue) during the 1920’s.

the front page at timeline theatre

The authors, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur both were reporters in Chicago. They modeled many of their characters in their 18 character comedy after fellow reporters they knew. The Front Page, produced in 1928 running an impressive 288 performances with 4 revivals on Broadway, also became 2 successful films – 1931 and 1974 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. The Front Page is considered one of the ‘best 25 plays’ of the 20th Century by many experts. It is a terrific ensemble work that grabs audiences and keeps them engaged throughout.

The opening scenes find reporters from 8 Chicago (yes, 8) newspapers playing cards while waiting for the execution of a white man for killing a Black Chicago police officer.  Don Blair is Wilson from the American; Mike McNamara is Mike Endicott from the Post; Loren Lazerine is Jim Murphy from the Journal; Michael Kingston is McCue from the City Press; Larry Baldacci is Ed Schwartz from the Daily News; Alex Goodrich is Ernie Kruger from the Journal of Commerce and mark Richard is Roy V. Bensinger from the Tribune – all eagerly wait for any news about the impending execution scheduled for 7 AM. We get to know these street-wise and cynical reporters whose jaded views and keen perceptions of 1920’s Chicago political and social scene are fodder for dark humor.  When the ace – Hildy Johnson (P.J. Powers) from the Herald Examiner makes his grand entrance, the crew welcomes the flamboyant reporter to the nest.

the front page at timeline theatre

We see how the execution of a cop killer is but a backdrop to the larger story of rampant corruption, scandal, and hi-jinx that permeated Chicago in the Jazz Age. The show is filled with local historical references including the Red Scare and the dominance of gangsters in Chicago society.  Chicago is depicted by these gritty reporters as a mean street city with politicians ever trying for political advantage in search of wealth, power and patronage. We experience the important and powerful role that the media (here newspapers) play in a democratic society. Indeed, the press can make or break an elected official and these wry writers know their craft and they can sense a worthy story. They’re competitiveness then takes over.

the front page at timeline theatre

This is the essence of the comedy as these manic scribes rush and ramble as the story of the execution and a major mishap unfolds. This 2 hour and 30 minute comedy flies by as we laugh and cheer for Earl, Mollie and Hildy to reach their goals. We admire all the reporters and we are impressed by the quick-witted editor Walter Burns (Terry Hamilton) who strives to control and “spin” events into sensational journalism. Add a manipulative mayor (Rob Riley) and a shaky sheriff (Bill McGough) and The Front Page becomes a hoot!

I must state that every performance here is first-class- making for one of the finest ensemble plays in years! I especially enjoyed the fabulous work and stage chemistry from Terry Hamilton as the controlling editor and P.J. Powers as the charismatic ace reporter.  Every minute of this landmark comedy works and the comedic timing is rich in laughs. This enjoyable show demonstrates the high production values of TimeLine Theatre. They do theatre right. Get there to see how to mount a classic comedy – you’ll have loads laughs too!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 16, 2011

Jeff Recommended

At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, call 773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through July 17, 2011