Written in 1995, Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo marked the return of Carol Burnett to the Broadway stage after a 30-year absence. One can easily see why Burnett was drawn to the piece — equal parts sitcom, classic farce and slapstick, it was the perfect material for her.
Nearly 20 years later, the comedy still has the power to generate laughs as proven in a sparkling new production playing at the Grove Theater Center in Burbank.
Moon Over Buffalo centers on the exploits of a once-famous but fading theatrical couple, George and Charlotte Hay (Mark Belnick and Kimberly Lewis), who are determinedly treading the boards in Buffalo, New York. The year is 1953, and their audiences are dwindling thanks to the rise in popularity of television. Still, they’ve managed to secure an engagement at the Erlanger Theater, playing two old warhorses in repertory — Private Lives and Cyrano De Bergerac.
Also in the company is Charlotte’s cantankerous mother, Ethel (Carol Herman), who has theater in her blood, and devoted stage manager Paul (Paul Galliano), who has learned to manage the tantrums of the royal couple. Their daughter, Rosalind (Keri Safran), arrives with her fiancé in tow, Howard (Chuck Raucci), a TV weatherman, but circumstances continually prevent her from introducing him to her parents. Meanwhile, the lead actress Eileen (Sarah Randall Hunt) turns up pregnant, a “gift” from George, which provokes Charlotte to threaten to leave town with their lawyer, Richard (Paul Michael Nieman), who’s always had designs on her. The stage is set and, as dictated by the form, the misunderstandings and comic situations spin off from there.
I reviewed Ludwig’s earlier Lend Me a Tenor in a well-done production at Actors Co-op last March, and there are similarities within the works including the theatrical milieu, the time period, mistaken identity and intoxication, but I find Moon to be the more satisfying piece. The dialogue has snap and is vulgar when it wants to be, and the hilarious second-act balcony scene is far more hilarious than Tenor‘s running-in-and-out-of-doors.
The production now playing at the Grove Theater Center is directed with confidence and style by Kiff Scholl, and his actors are more than up to the task. Belnick and Lewis are lots of fun as the alternately snippy and loving theatrical couple, and Herman earns laughs of her own as the hard-of-hearing Ethel. Safran, Galliano, Hunt, Nieman and Raucci all fulfill their roles well, with Safran taking the opportunity to shine during the balcony scene. Everyone seems to be having fun with this show, and the enthusiasm spreads to the audience.
Adam Haas Hunter’s set looks great (with plenty of doors to run in and out of), as do Michael Mullen’s period costumes.
All in all, it’s a breezy and amusing evening of theater. Moon Over Buffalo plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Grove Theater Center, Burbank, until September 14th. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (323) 960-7721.