Theatre Review: ‘The Front Page’ at The Stratford Festival

The cast of “The Front Page” at The Stratford Festival. Photo by Emily Cooper.

There are many instances when a play written almost 100 years ago is still as topical in 2019 as it was when it was written in the late 20’s. Politics, greed, corruption, murder, it all makes an appearance in the 1928 dramedy “The Front Page” now showing at the Stratford Festival. This show makes the newspaper relevant again, it is just a shame no one could find one that was still in business to celebrate it’s greatness…in print!

. . .top notch. . .a must see . . .

“The Front Page” written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, is adapted for the Stratford Stage by Michael Healey. It tells the story of a press room in Chicago, where the actual story is not necessarily the important thing and real journalism is tossed out the window. All that is wanted is to sell papers, the heck with the facts. While the boys from the other papers are playing poker, Hildy Johnson (Ben Carlson) is quitting. He met a girl, and is going off to New York City to marry her. The problem? He is the best reporter the ‘Examiner’ has. As he is packing his bags, a murderer is scheduled to be hung for shooting an African American cop and killing him. Just as Hildy is ready to leave for the train station, shots are fired into the press room, and the killer is on the loose. Hildy is back on the beat, getting the story, and giving the ‘Examiner’ the break it needs.

First things first, this story takes a while to get cooking. Three acts. Three acts!! This is a long show and to be honest, it felt long at the beginning. At the end of act one, and the rest of the acts, the story is fantastic and will really captivate your attention. The comedy, the drama, the emotion, it makes for a fantastic production. The unit set of the grungy press room in the County Court building is aesthetically phenomenal. Trash litters the floor. Phones are set up everywhere. Lorenzo Sacoini creates a fun set that is a character on it’s own.

Dana Osborne’s costumes are perfect and they really captivate the essence of each character’s personality. It’s nice to see costumes that really emulate what the character would wear and not just giving them something to put on.

Director Graham Abbey assembles a fantastic cast of character actors to make this story fun and exciting. Ben Carlson leads the show as Hildy Johnson. Carlson has a great hold on the Hildy character. He is funny, he is full of heart, he is relatable, and he has a quick wit that brings some of the greatest one-liners to life in this script. Carlson is great to watch. A master at work.

Mike Shara plays one of the funniest characters I have ever seen on stage, Sheriff Hartman. Shara plays a caricature of a tough talking, gun toting, air head. The dynamic between Shara and Juan Chioran’s Mayor are priceless and take an at time dense story and make it hilarious. They provide the comic relief in this show. Shara has a Will Ferrell demeanor that is so entertaining, you will have trouble breathing from laughter.

Maev Beaty is a firecracker as the outspoken Cookie Burns. She does a wonderful job countering Carlson’s Hildy Johnson. The back and forth between the two is a dance that you love witnessing. They have a love hate relationship that works wonders on stage.

Their are those who say that if you are going to revive a show or mount a new production, that you need to make it relevant to the modern age. I think that is ridiculous. Of all the wonderful things that this show incorporates into it, every time I heard a reference to “fake news,” or “Russian Collusion,” I rolled my eyes. I want my theatre to take me away and tell me a story, I don’t want to have my theatre reiterate what the media is throwing at me everyday. Other than this small irritation, this production is top notch and is a must see before it closes on October 25.

Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes including two 15 minute intermissions.

“The Front Page” runs until October 25, 2019 and is presented as part of the Stratford Festival in Canada. For more information, click here.