Basics: The Niagara-on-the-Lake Shaw Festival at the Royal George Theater runs through October 8th. Click here for specific dates and tickets.
Execution time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with 1 break)
Thumbnail sketch: On the Razzle is a comedy adaptation by Tom Stoppard of the 19th-century Austrian play by Johann Nestroy. Produced and directed by Craig Hall. Life in a small Austrian village can get a little boring. But when two clerks decide to make a ‘blow-up’ in Vienna, they manage to get themselves into more trouble overnight than most of us will go through in our entire lives. Identity mistakes, romantic entanglements, and clashes with the law – all the elements of farce are crafted into a feast of dazzling words and gross puns by the peerless Tom Stoppard.
Players, Play, and Production: The play has quite a history. In 1835, the English playwright John Oxenford wrote a comedy called “A Day Well Spent”, which was adapted into a three-act musical in 1842 by the Viennese playwright Johann Nestroy. American playwright Thorton Wilder removed the music and made two of his adaptations, The Merchant of Yonkers (1938) and The Matchmaker (1955). The Matchmaker was a big hit starring Ruth Gordon. The major change between The Merchant of Yonkers and The Matchmaker is Wilder’s expansion of the supporting character Dolly Levi into the play’s central character. The matchmaker became his Hello Dolly!, which was a huge success. (1964) This work by Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart was last performed as a reading play here at 710 Main Street in Buffalo. In 1981, Tom Stoppard returned this story to his own version adapted in Vienna. By the way, “on the dazzle” is British slang for “celebrating, especially when you’re drinking freely”.
All the members of the On the Razzle troupe are solid, accomplished actors, but not necessarily good comedy actors. There were missing opportunities for humor, for example Marie kept crying. A comical French maid might have scored more of those long stage crosses. And instead of majesty and confusion, Fraulein Blumenblatt manages to enhance the fun even more by being dizzy and bewildered.
Actors who really took part in the spirit of this farce include Patrick Galligan as the playful and very mean coachman and Jonathan Tan as the servant Melchior. The silver-tongued Mr. Tan was agile and methodical, and his talent for farce was real.
The most unusual casting is Christie Frank (as Barnaby in Hello, Dolly!) as Christopher. Christopher plays the role of “trousers”. This is an old English theatrical practice in which the roles of young men are played by young women in knickers. This tradition probably started to give the gentlemen who went out to see the legs of young women. The role of Christopher was played by a young woman in the first and most of On the Razzle’s films, and this tradition continues here at Shaw Festival. Mr. Frank is playing a role energetically, and it is a mug with an expression reminiscent of Stan Laurel.
Rick Reed plays the central role of Zangler (Hello, Dolly’s equivalent of Horace), appropriately brusque and impressively handling his mouthful of unfair remarks. And Mike Nadajewski, who plays Weinbar, is in high spirits.
The rest of the cast including Tara Rosling, Drew Plummer and Claire Julian acted straight. I wanted to see everyone on stage having more fun.
Director Craig Hall came up with some very clever ideas, such as the restaurant screen and the music that accompanies Miss Blumenblatt’s romantic musings. But most of the physical humor and added touches seemed intentional and somewhat labored rather than inspired or bubbly.
On the Razzle is a delightful piece of play that is rarely performed. A fun option for a summer night in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
*HARD OF BUFFALO
One Buffalo: It means trouble. A terrible play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless you have a specific reason to participate (i.e. you are the parent of the person participating), please participate broadly in this show.
Two Buffalo: Fair, but no big shakes. Either the directing is grossly off the mark, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you’re the type of person who’s content with just going to the theater, you might want to look elsewhere.
3 BUFFALO: Still having issues, but a great night at the theater. If you go in without high expectations, you’ll probably be satisfied.
FOUR BUFFALOS: The level of direction and acting is high. If you are interested in the genre and content, I would love to participate.
FIVE BUFFALOS: A really great and unusual rating. A comedy that weakens with laughter, a drama that touches the heart. If this is your favorite kind of show, it would be foolish to miss it.