Broadway Bound is Beyond Broadway

Marc Tuminelli

This is going to be another one of those completely unnecessary reviews I am sometimes compelled to write out of conscience and a dedication to the art of the stage.

It took a great deal of dedication to make it to the Surflight opening night. Between the torrential rains and a high tide about 45 minutes before curtain the Boulevard on Long Beach Island was flooded higher than mid-wheel for hundreds of feet at a stretch and visibility was dangerously limited. But my dedication was amply rewarded.

Broadway Bound is the best straight play Surflight has ever done. (Best musical was "A Chorus Line.")

That's why I wonder if I need say anything. (What a critic I am. If you don't have anything bad to say, don't say it?) Praising Neil Simon seems redundant and everything about Surflight's production is so perfect what the hell can I add? I swear, watching this production I truly felt humbled. I just sat their slack-jawed.

Broadway Bound is the most serious of Simon's seriocomic autobiographical trilogy. (The first two are Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues.) It's also the most demanding of its cast. And the casting has been brilliant in Surflight's productions of the series. Marc Tuminelli has played Simon's alter ego Eugene Jerome in all three productions and Andrew Foote and Kate Konigisor return as Eugene's brother Stanley and his mother Kate.

Andrew Foote and Marc Tuminelli

Two more key elements of Brighton Beach also return: Jessica Kaplan's well-designed set and the excellent direction of Patrick Quinn, who is also a film, stage and television actor.

In Brighton Beach, Kate's husband Jack and her sister Blanche were portrayed by Vince Urbani and Anita Hollander. However, they're both down in Atlantic City performing in Surflight's production of Anything Goes at the Trump Plaza. So this time around we get Carolyn Popp and Surflight newcomer Kenny Morris. Allan Van was scheduled to play Kate's father Ben but when Van took ill he was replaced by another newcomer, David Garwood.

Eugene Jerome is out of the Army now and hoping to get a job writing comedy for the new medium of television (It's 1949) with brother Stanley. Widowed Aunt Blanche's daughters are out of the nest and she has remarried quite well. Her mink coat is a silent reminder of her good fortune and a source of constant irritation to her socialist father. Meanwhile, Jack and Kate's marriage is becoming strained to the breaking point.  

Kate Konigisor and Kenny Morris

In the face of this brilliant cast I can find nothing to criticize. Just multiply everything positive I've ever said about those we've encountered before by a factor of two or three. What about the newcomers Morris and Garwood? Morris is a middle-aged Jewish guy playing a middle-aged Jewish guy so the role isn't a stretch. But even with the good fortune of portraying someone with whom you share some background, you still have the hard work of understanding human emotion and portraying it faithfully. Morris is... is... is... I'm running out of superlatives so let's just recycle brilliant. Garwood is just as radiant. (Aha! There's one!)

Kate Konigisor, David Garwood and Carolyn Popp

Sitting at  last week's The Lion in Winter I got to talking to the lady next to me. For some reason she surmised that I must see a lot of Surflight shows. When I mentioned that I write the reviews for The Beachcomber she said, "I read them all the time. I like them." Then she paused a beat and added, "Oh but you're mean." I don't think I'm mean. I just hold Surflight to the highest of standards. Why shouldn't I? They're not some amateur theatrical group putting on shows at the local VFW post. They're an Equity theater that gets $25 a ticket. I don't shrink from telling you frankly when I think they've fallen short. But when they get it right, as they do with ever greater frequency, it's my pleasure to be the first to tell you.

I once wrote that Surflight's "best work comes within millimeters of the best you'll see on Broadway." With Surflight's production of Broadway Bound there's still a gap of a few millimeters. But now it's Broadway that has the catching up to do.

At the Surflight October 12 - 15, 2005 at 8:00 pm. October 13 and 16 at 2:00 pm.