Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths head this new adaptation of a Neil Simon gem in London's Savoy Theatre and breathe new life into this comedy classic.
I remember watching the 1975 film starring Walter Matthau and George Burns as a kid and thinking it was pretty darn hilarious for a movie about two grumpy old dudes. It's a great story: two Vaudeville legends who parted ways long ago on not so cordial terms are made to meet-up again and rehearse for one last show. One is bitter, moody and delusional, the other stubborn, passive and near senile. Their whole relationship is a Vaudeville routine, even subconsciously: they can't interact without their arguments turning into comedic gold.
It's unlikely anyone will surpass Matthau's take on Willy Clark, even Peter Falk, as great as he was, could not dethrone the man. Danny DeVito makes the role his own and his take on the character is loads of fun. Willy is portrayed a bit more like a spoiled brat, taking his nephew's generosity for granted, having temper tantrums whenever possible and never acknowledging his own mistakes: right or wrong, he's never wrong. This is a man in deep, bitter denial and the whole thing, when you think about it, plays out a bit like a therapy session for the man as he is slowly made to realize certain things about himself and about his love/hate friendship with Griffiths' Al Lewis.
Richard Griffiths also gives a unique take on his character playing him more vain than senile. He's much less of a wise-guy than George Burns or even Woody Allen's Al Lewis coming off as much saner and much more together than his counterpart. That makes an interesting dynamic between both characters but with Burns' Lewis you could understand why Willy would get annoyed with him, here, it doesn't take much for Willy to go off the rails. I'm also not too sure about Richard Griffiths' New York accent which comes and goes, not always convincing. The supporting cast is spot-on, I should point out, with Adam Levy doing a really good job as Willy's agent nephew.
The play has its moments of pure Neil Simon Odd Couple-style banters but it isn't all played for laughs as we do feel bad for these guys who, despite being comedy geniuses in their own rights, have been cast aside from the acting world, reduced to losing out on potato chips ads, staying home in their pyjamas waiting anxiously for Variety to reach them in the hope of finding something meaningful to hang onto. The third act of the play is much quieter and much sweeter than the rest, leaving us on a touching, human note rather than a laugh-out-loud punchline. This is what makes Simon's tale special and it works really well here. We also get to actually see most of the much talked-about 'doctor's sketch', a decidedly fun distraction in the middle of the play where both stars get to really shine and show us just how good Lewis & Clark are at what they do.
Turns out: really good.
Overall, though not quite as good as the original film, this Sunshine Boys certainly surpasses the Woody Allen/Peter Falk one, which had its corny moments (and Sarah Jessica Parker), and gives new life to one of my own personal favourite Neil Simon creations. Great cast (with a Danny DeVito on top form), very funny and very smart.
Come in and ENTER the Savoy: totally worth it.