Move over De La Hoya, there is a new golden boy on the scene. He is 75-years-old and has been here before. The sweet science of boxing is on display in the revival of Golden Boy at the theater in which the play premiered 75 years ago. Golden Boy opened November 4, 1937, ran for 250 performances and was playwright Clifford Odets biggest hit. It seems that everything old is new again at the Belasco Theatre and all that glitters is still gold for Golden Boy.
The play is set in 1930s Manhattan and focuses on Joe Bonaparte, a budding violinist that is torn between his passion for music and the irresistible attraction to fame and success that can be gained from the blood sport of boxing. Young Joe is exceptional at both, but he must choose one as the wear and tear of boxing will obliterate his ability to play music. Against his father’s wishes, Joe chooses boxing and gets sucked into the undertow that can come with riding the wave of success, which ultimately leads to his demise.
It is apparent why the allure of they play is still so appealing. At the heart of Golden Boy lies the eternal challenge of balancing want and need. The genesis of the play was born from Odets’ struggle to balance art and materialism, and every character in the play deals with it. Joe wants to be a great musician, but his need for fortune overpowers him. Joe’s father wants his son to choose music, but the need for a parent to allow a child to find their own path makes Mr. Bonaparte loosen his grip on Joe. Lorna Moon, the dame from Newark, wants to be with Joe, but the need to be taken care of and remain loyal to her boss, who also happens to be Joe’s manager, forces her to stay with Tom Moody. Tom wants to get rid of Joe, but the need to finally be successful clouds his judgment. No character in the play finds the balance they desperately seek, displaying how difficult it is to achieve it. The question of balancing want and need was just as imminent in 1937 as it is in 2012 and like the best art; Golden Boy leaves us to brood about the questions that are at the core of life.
The cast of this revival shine with the shimmer of an unearthed nugget. Seth Numrich excels as the tragic Joe Bonaparte. Watching his emotions teeter back and forth as he spirals into the abyss of meaningless fame is like taking a ride on the Cyclone – in one word he is thrilling. Tony Shalhoub is magnificent as Joe’s immigrant father. His performance is beautifully heartbreaking. Danny Mastrogiorgio and Yvonne Strahovski are memorable as Lorna Moon and Tom Moody. Along with the sets of Michael Yeargan and the costumes of Catherine Zuber, the cast splendidly resurrects the time period and material Odets wrote decades ago.
The famed Hailey’s Comet blazes across our atmosphere every 75 years, it appears this play may also share the same time schedule as the legendary solar system body. Golden Boy will be playing a limited 10-week engagement at the Belasco Theatre. It is a play that is definitely worth its weight and should not be missed.
Photos: Paul Kolnik
Cover Art courtesy of Serino Coyne