Certainly there were many precedents, like The Jazz Singer, of disappointed fathers whose sons were determined to pervert their pure talent for commercial success. Clifford Odets, however, had a hand in turning the dilemma of choosing fame over art into a cliché.
|Seth Numrich as Joe and Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna in “Golden Boy.” Photo by Paul Kolnik|
In “Golden Boy,” at the Belasco Theatre again for its 75th anniversary, staged by Lincoln Center Theaters, and running through January 20th, a boy forsakes music for the excitement of the boxing ring.
In the 1930s, and for many years thereafter, boxers exerted celebrity. The limelight, not fiddling under a street lamp for tips, is what Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich) seeks. The day when Joe decides to put on boxing gloves, his father (Tony Shalhoub) spends a small fortune on a violin for his 21st birthday.
If Joe needs convincing on the path to the fight game, he gets it from Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovski), the hard-boiled dame who falls for his sweetness while pushing him toward brutality.
|Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna Moon and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Tom Moody. Photo by Paul Kolnik.|
Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio), perhaps sensing their rivalry for Lorna’s affections, doesn’t much like the kid he’s managing. Tom dubs Joe “the cock-eyed wonder” to the press and fans.
|Anthony Crivello as Eddie Fuseli with Seth Numrich as Joe Bonaparte. Danny Bustein as Tokio in background.
Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The gangster, Eddie Fuseli (Anthony Crivello), on the other hand, like Joe’s trainer, Tokio (Danny Burstein), is captivated by Joe. Fuseli buys a piece of the rising star, and then showers him with gifts of clothing. After a while, Joe begins to dress like his mentor. He takes on the trappings of oppulence, flashy clothes and a fast car. The one woman Joe wants is engaged to Tom Moody. The hubbub of Joe’s life is very different from the quiet and peace he felt when he was a champion violin-player as a boy.
|Tony Shalhoub as Mr. Bonaparte, Seth Numrich as Joe and Danny Burstein as his trainer, Tokio. Photo by Paul Kolnik.|
Given Joe’s outsized resentments and grandiosity, it’s not hard to sympathize with his detractors, like Moody, or Roxy Gottlieb (Ned Eisenberg), the other member of the syndicate backing him. The press too don’t like Joe. Even Joe says, “I don’t like myself, past, present and future.” Joe is a discontented soul, out to “show ’em all.”
Everything about the LCT production of “Golden Boy” is true to the period it represents, from the brilliant costumes by Catherine Zuber, to the dialect. In fact, as an example of the latter, Yvonne Strahovski, an Austrailian import making her LCT and Broadway debuts, is pitch-perfect as “the tramp from New Jersey.”
Overseeing the harmonious presentation, director Bartlett Sher shows his sensitivity and appreciation for Odets’s work in all facets of “Golden Boy.”
Among the well-directed cast, Michael Aronov stands out as Siggie, Joe’s brother-in-law, whose ambitions are homier and more down-to-earth that that of the “Golden Boy.” Seth Numrich gives a nuanced performance that keeps him in balance between Joe’s insecurity and his bravado. Danny Mastrogiorgio’s Tom Moody is so completely natural it’s as if he’s living the part. Credit Tony Shalhoub for his restraint in underplaying Mr. Bonaparte whom he embues with a resolute strength and sadness.
In fact, there are very few missteps in this “Golden Boy.” The only quibble brings us back to the beginning, that the story is by now so familiar that it mostly lacks dramatic surprise. And if it has become an mundane theme, we can lay some of that blame on Clifford Odets.
For more information about “Golden Boy,” please visit www.lct.org.