My 20 Initial Impressions & Observations About ‘Lucky Guy’

March 14, 2013


Earlier this week, for roughly two hours, I sat six feet from Tom Hanks. He was mustachioed, intermittently drunk, briefly high on morphine, and at one point arguing in bed with Maura Tierney.

His facial hair, theatrics, and relative proximity to little ol’ me all related to his starring role in the late Nora Ephron’s Broadway play “Lucky Guy.” Currently in previews, the bio dramedy details the fascinating career and life of high-profile NYC tabloid columnist Mike McAlary. As a theater lover, Hanks fan, journalism junkie, and New York nerd, I enjoyed the show immensely, from start to finish.

Here are my 20 initial impressions and observations about “Lucky Guy.” I jotted them down soon after Hanks and the rest of the cast exited the stage to a standing ovation, fleshing them out the next day.

1) Ephron obviously knows journalism. A large chunk of the show is set in either a newsroom or a bar, featuring reporters and editors at work and play. The journo journeymen’s needling and vulgar, quick-witted patter was on point. The background sounds in the newsroom scenes of muted chatter, ringing phones, and typing fingers were genuine. And the featured journalism terms, editorial tête-à-têtes, and reporting routines seemed right.

2) At least I think they were right. The first act especially zooms by at such a fast and furious clip it was genuinely tough at times to digest the dialogue or plot points. In a few scenes, it truly seemed like the cast was almost racing simply to get them done. But it did appear the hypersonic pace was at least partially by design– mirroring both McAlary’s rapid rise to fame and the always-on-deadline race to “get the wood” (the big story featured in a tabloid front-page headline).

3) Breaking the fourth wall is in. I just finished a “House of Cards” season one binge watch. The show came to mind almost immediately when the curtains rose on “Lucky Guy.” Like Kevin Spacey’s political animal character in “Cards,” almost everyone in “Lucky Guy” speaks directly to the audience. Sometimes they are filling in gaps in the years-long McAlary narrative or setting up a scene’s significance. Other times they are briefly breaking down the basics of journalism (such as the definition of libel law) or police misbehavior (McAlary covered cops for years and ultimately nabbed a Pulitzer for a scoop about a major incident of police brutality). These asides and explanations were always quick, to the point, and offered without pandering. And for the most part, they worked. For example, one early scene showed McAlary/Hanks nabbing an exclusive doorfront interview with a needed source, while simultaneously featuring him stepping back and describing how he was masterfully handling the interview and grabbing information from the source.

4) Be ready: The show is heavy. Lots of lighthearted moments and one-liners are interspersed with extremely frank talk about rape, sperm versus semen, anal penetration, and cancer. I appreciated the seeming genuineness of the related conversations– such as a newsroom chat about whether a woman had lied about being sexually assaulted. To be clear though, the show is definitely R-rated.

5) The best line is at the top of the show. One of the characters holds up a copy of The Gray Lady and announces to the audience: “This is The New York Times. This is a serious newspaper. [Pause] Fuck it. [Holds up a separate paper.] Thisssssss is a tabloid.”

6) The amount of money floating around New York newspapers in the ’80s and ’90s was obscene! It was mentioned that McAlary and others received $100,000 signing bonuses and mega-huge six-figure salaries. One joke even refers to a mid-to-high-level editor getting a signing bonus– the joke being that other journos thought that was a tad ridiculous.

7) Tom Hanks makes an appropriate entrance. Some hard-scrabble newsroom characters drink, curse, and engage in boy’s club behavior for a few minutes before Hanks rushes on stage out of the blue to join them. He has a brief introductory line, followed by a semi-long pause, appeasing the audience’s sudden urge to clap, catcall, and whistle.

8) I write this with love: Hanks is finally old enough that watching him play an eager-beaver, up-and-coming (and I’m guessing early 30-ish) reporter took me at least slightly out of the moment in some of the early scenes. Just slightly. Overall, from my seat, he pulled off the role with gusto.

9) The play’s meatiest journalism food for thought, repeated a few times, was simple and provided by one of McAlary’s early editors: The only two hardcore facts in life are that you are born and you die. Everything else in between is a story– and all stories are open to interpretation.

10) Peter Scolari is short. Hanks’s former “Bosom Buddies” co-star plays one of the journalism guys working with or competing against McAlary. He’s great in the show, just surprisingly diminutive in person. Separately, during intermission, I heard two couples discussing the fact that they’d just seen him naked during a (late-to-the-party) viewing of a season one “Girls” episode, which made me giggle. 

11) Courtney Vance, playing an editor/McAlary mentor, steals the show. The actor, and Angela Bassett’s husband, is given some of the best lines and he delivers them with perfect timing and zest. For example, at the very start, he outlines the divide in 1980s New York City between the rich (while pointing at audience members in the orchestra seats) and the poor (while pointing up at the balcony), and between whites (pointing again at the orchestra seats) and blacks (balcony). Maybe you have to be there for full appreciation, but it scored big laughs.

12) Maura Tierney is the worst thing about the show, I’m sorry to write. Appearing as McAlary’s wife, she is noticeably nervous on stage, hard to hear at times, and just flat and one-note throughout. In fairness, she’s not given a ton to do. This is definitely a guy’s show. She is simply ‘the wife.’ The only other female characters: a reporter whose only trait is her eagerness to curse like the guys; and a forgettable editor-in-chief nervous about making some big ethical decisions.

13) My favorite scene features Hanks and Vance center stage, sitting next to each other while pretending to be on the phone from separate hospital beds– they were both receiving cancer treatment. Hanks/McAlary suggests upping their morphine levels to the extremes and both go on a brief, loopy, wide-eyed trip to a pleasure nirvana. It was the one scene I heard many audience members buzzing about as we shuffled out at the end.

14) I saw running times for the show listed at two hours and 40 minutes and two hours and 25 minutes. Nope. The show started a few minutes after 8 p.m. and was done– encore applause and all– by 10:05 p.m., including a 15-minute intermission. The second act is noticeably short.

15) Spoiler alert: McAlary wins a Pulitzer. Watch the show or read Wikipedia to see what it was for. The “acceptance speech” he gives in the newsroom serves as a send-off of sorts, since he passes away soon after (in the show and real life). The speech itself left me wanting– it was strangely halting (Hanks literally pauses between words) and not eloquent at all. My initial impression is that this must have been the exact speech the real McAlary gave or at least very close to it. And on some level I appreciated the underwhelming nature of it– no need for fireworks. But it also took me out of the moment and just didn’t quite gel.

16) The special effects are fun and creative! Headlines and page captures showing some of McAlary’s actual work appears at times on a big screen stretching the length of the stage. Actual broadcast news clips tied to some of McAlary’s hits and misses are also run at perfect moments. There is even a copy editing scene in which an outsized story draft is shown on the screen– being revised in real-time– while an editor tinkers with it on the stage below.

17) In case journalism nerds are interested, iconic columnist Jimmy Breslin looms large early on. At one point, a character even makes a smoke-and-shadows appearance as him. Apparently, in a brief run-in with McAlary, he was kind of a jerk– at least that’s how McAlary tells it.

18) Strange moments before and during the show, part one: Like most Broadway spectaculars, you wait in line for “Lucky Guy” outside the theater for a while until you’re let in a few minutes before showtime. On the night I saw it, the couple in front of my friend and I kept talking about how excited they were to see their first Broadway show. Yet, when we finally started moving forward, they became confused and then agitated. It turns out they had tickets to see the musical “Matilda,” which was playing in a theater basically right next to the one showing “Lucky Guy.” The best line from the mini-fiasco came from the husband: “Let’s hurry. We can’t be late for ‘Matilda.’”

19) Strange moments before and during the show, part two: The theater was packed. Seemingly the only empty seats were four of them right next to me, seven or eight rows from the stage. Then, at intermission, some people show up and sit down in them. Who comes late to Tom Hanks on Broadway? Soon after the second act began, I noticed the quartet passing around a pair of flasks and taking intermittent sips. Who comes late and drinks during Tom Hanks on Broadway? I had to ask. A stubbly dude (wearing two coats) sitting right next to me explained simply, “It’s been a long night.”

20) I told a friend the next day I’d seen Hanks in “Lucky Guy.” My friend immediately humble-bragged back that she’d seen Ricky Martin the night before in the Broadway staging of “Evita.” I feel like I won that conversation. Thoughts?

By Daniel Reimold

Source : College Media Matters