nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 14, 2007
The Roundabout's revival of The Ritz is a delight: extremely funny and a class act all the way. Terrence McNally's script is a razor-sharp and hilarious contemporary farce. You'll notice I didn't say "sex farce" because, though it's set in a pre-AIDS gay bathhouse, there is no sex anywhere in this play: just a rollicking romp filled with mistaken identities, people in the wrong place at the wrong time, people who are pretending to be somebody else, and more people, just being their richly human silly selves. And—thanks to Scott Pask's glorious set—doors. LOTS of doors.
It all begins when Gaetano Proclo, a businessman from Cleveland, Ohio, stumbles into the Ritz, a deluxe gay bathhouse in New York City during the halcyon Studio 54/disco era. Proclo is on the run from his gangster-ish brother-in-law, who is planning to kill him (his father's dying wish). He asked a cabbie to bring him to the last place anyone would think of finding him, and the Ritz is where the cabbie delivers him.
It's quite a setup: seemingly acres of rooms for anonymous trysting, plus a steam room, a disco, a gymnasium, and more. On the night that Proclo has stumbled in here, the place is filled with patrons, including a "chubby chaser" named Claude who immediately becomes enamored with Proclo (who weighs around 240). Also on hand is a likeable fellow named Chris who eventually befriends Proclo. Tiger and Duff, two hunky blond attendants who look like brothers but are in fact lovers of three years' standing, also figure into events.
Michael Brick, a dim private detective with a falsetto voice, turns up, hired by Proclo's brother-in-law Carmine to catch him in flagrante delicto with a Ritz patron.
And then there's Googie Gomez, singer and presence non pareil, a woman with practically no talent who is performing in the Ritz's nightclub. She's been told that a big producer will be in the audience tonight, and she's pretty sure that Proclo is her man.
Lots of comedy ensues.
Now, McNally's intricate plotting and unending stream of one-liners has much to do with the success of the evening, but even a farce as well-made as this one needs others to bring it to life. In Joe Mantello's exceedingly good-humored production, the actors almost never lose sight of their characters' humanity and consistently play with conviction, truth, and reality. That's why the laughs come so surely.
Setting the tone are Kevin Chamberlain's Gaetano Proclo, a nice guy, sure, but no pushover; and Brooks Ashmanskas's Chris, who is campy and free-spirited without ever going so far over the top that he makes us stop believing that he's actually just an ordinary man who, in the still-very-closeted '70s, probably never feels this free or open anywhere else he goes. (Indeed, one of the things I love about this production is its clear subtext that gay people are everywhere and just-like-you-and-me.)
Adam Seitz is wonderfully droll and matter-of-fact as Abe, the cashier at the Ritz, and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and David Turner are terrific as Tiger and Duff (they show off some impressive dancing chops in Googie's number, too). Patrick Kerr is very funny as the fetishistic Claude, again without sacrificing his humanity; the other patrons are played by a passel of mostly buff and always game actors, one-time gay porn star Ryan Idol among them, who all seem perfectly cast. (While we're talking about porn let me mention that although the language is sometimes on the blue side, there's no nudity to speak of here; The Ritz is admirably tame.)
Ashlie Atkinson and Lenny Venito (as Proclo's wife and brother-in-law, respectively) are over-the-top, but they're playing broad Italian American stereotypes on purpose. And utterly larger-than-life—pretty much stealing the show out from under everybody else, in fact—is Rosie Perez, also doing a stereotype (Puerto Rican spitfire), but doing it so well and with such warmth and sense of purpose that we never lose sight of the fact that Googie is a real person too, appearances to the contrary. Perez has star quality to spare and spectacular comic sense; her timing is uncanny and her show-stopping musical number—a grotesque montage of '60s/'70s musical theatre hits—is brilliantly performed; she seems to be somehow channeling Eartha Kitt by way of Abbe Lane, or something.
Credit for the success of that splendid number must be shared with Paul Huntley, who has designed an array of remarkable wigs for Perez; William Ivey Long, who provides her with the exactly right (by which I mean wrong) evening gown; and especially Seth Rudetsky, whose arrangement of her songs—which include very obvious items like "People" and "Maybe This Time" and completely incongruous ones like "Sabbath Prayer" from Fiddler on the Roof—is almost miraculously witty. (The opening bit of the medley, which will not be disclosed here, is absolutely priceless.)
Rudetsky also has a small on-stage role in Act Two, performing "Magic to Do" for what amounts to a 10-second sight gag that's also very funny. He appears to be having a blast, as do all of his colleagues on that Studio 54 stage, and as will, I predict, pretty much anybody lucky enough to be in the audience.
The Ritz, almost quaint and old-fashioned in some ways, may not be the most urgent play to revive right now, but I'm glad to report that having chosen it, the Roundabout has done it more than proud. This is a bona fide Broadway hit, and we always need one of those.