THEATER REVIEW: “The Royal Family of Broadway” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Roseann Cane
Photograph by Daniel Rader
What do you get when you bring together a thoroughly brilliant cast of singing, dancing actors, a preternaturally gifted director, and a supremely inspired choreographer? You get a hit, a palpable musical theater hit, and if you want savor the recipe, you’d be well advised to reserve your tickets to The Royal Family of Broadway before the end of its run at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield on Saturday, July 7.
In 1927, George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s play, The Royal Family, a parody of the formidable Barrymore dynasty of actors, opened on Broadway to great success. The play especially skewered brother and sister John Barrymore (“Tony Cavendish”) and Ethel Barrymore (“Julie Cavendish”), and while John Barrymore was reported to find the play amusing, Ethel Barrymore let the press know that she was mightily offended.
Of course, in 1927, theatergoers were very familiar with the Barrymore clan, and much amused by Tony Cavendish’s drinking, womanizing, wildly narcissistic ways. Ethel Barrymore was known as a great actress who was also a beautiful femme fatale who would milk her curtain calls and extend applause by (famously) declaring, “That’s all there is—there isn’t any more!” Prima donna that she was, perhaps she thought that Julie Cavendish was beneath her, or she perhaps she lacked her brother’s self-awareness.
Though the play has seen many revivals, I think it’s fair to say that over the years, it’s become less of a parody and more of a comedy. Contemporary audiences are likely unaware of the Barrymore family (except perhaps for Drew), and I wondered if the musical adaptation would lose much of the bite the play had in its heyday.