A Catered Affair

While the Tony nominations reflect Broadway's increasing emphasis on cultivating younger audiences, they do so at the risk of marginalizing some mighty fine work, including this period gem based on the 1956 film (written by Gore Vidal), which itself was adapted from a tele-play (written by Paddy Chayefsky) that debuted the year before.

(Left to right) Matt Cavenaugh, Leslie Kritzer, Lori Wilner, Harvey Fierstein, Philip Hoffman, Tom Wopat and Faith Prince
(L to R) Matt Cavenaugh, Leslie Kritzer,
Lori Wilner, Harvey Fierstein,
Philip Hoffman, Tom Wopat and Faith Prince
Photo: Jim Cox
The sepia images projected onto the drab three-story apartment buildings and weathered fire escapes clustered on stage, reinforced by the complimentary color tones of the costumes, lend a genuine post-wartime, early '50's patina to the proceedings, but there is much more to this musical than nostalgia: most notably depth of the characters and their issues—qualities in greater supply here than in some of the Tony nominees.

Twenty-somethings Janey and Ralph see an offer to drive a friend's car to California as an opportunity to get married and enjoy a Pacific coast honeymoon, but the wishes of their parents, particularly her mother Aggie, throw a wrench in the plans. Having missed out on a formal wedding, and feeling guilty over shortchanging Janey in favor of her son, Aggie wants to use what meager savings she and her husband Tom have garnered on A Catered Affair. Tom thought they were saving the money so that he could eventually buy his own taxi.

Leslie Kritzer and Faith Prince as daughter and mother
Leslie Kritzer and Faith Prince
as daughter and mother
Photo: Jim Cox
In the process of dealing with the details and demands of carrying off such an event, everyone's pain, resentments, and desires are hung out to dry. At loose ends over what her daughter's impending marriage has brought up for her, Aggie confides in us that she feels her marriage is a loveless one, while Tom argues that their commitment and perseverence is an expression of their love.

Harvey Fierstein's adaptation of the story to the stage and John Bucchino's music and lyrics capture the subtleties of the era with impressive psychological and emotional detail. Fierstein's update of Winston, as a gay version of Aggie's brother, lends honesty where the original was stifled by the moral blindness of the era. Bucchino's score is dazzling in its subtle, heart-felt truths and simple, yet intricate melodies.

Tom Wopat, Faith Prince and Harvey Fierstein
Tom Wopat, Faith Prince
and Harvey Fierstein
Photo: Jim Cox
Tony-nominated Tom Wopat, as Tom, and Faith Prince, as Aggie, wow us with their gravity and grit, establishing a strong sense of connectedness that supports the climactic catharsis. Leslie Kritzer, as Janey, and Matt Cavenaugh, as Ralph, underscore the practicality of their parents and the times, capturing the preternatural maturity of a generation weaned on the Depression and World War II.

With all the accolades at this year's Tony's for Sondheim's work (a lifetime achievement award plus various nominations for "A Sunday in the Park with George") and the revivals of a couple of classics ("Gypsy" and "South Pacific"), its a shame that such a lovely, original work as "A Catered Affair," which combines a creative modern score with the sensibilities of the classical period of the American musical (late '40's to early '60's) has been largely ignored by industry voters more interested in box office numbers, demographics, and big names.

Tickets for A Catered Affair are currently on sale at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St., NY, NY, through July 27th. 212-239-6200.

Bob Bows


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