“The Understudy” is the perfect follow-up to the Lyric Stage Company’s hugely successful production of the epic “Nicholas Nickleby.”
The tale of a Broadway production’s rehearsal is rife with humor, insider jokes (that all can enjoy) and an honest assessment of the pecking order of show business. Toss in a complicated breakup, an action star known for the line “Get in the truck!” and one of the funniest silent characters ever seen, and you’ve got a great night of theater.
In lesser hands, “The Understudy” could easily go for the smartass quips. But director Larry Coen smartly mines truth of the material and lets humor emerge as a byproduct of intelligent, honest storytelling.
Christopher James Webb is delightful as bitter, underemployed stage actor Harry, vacillating between committed artist and pathetic failure while spewing venom at his co-stars.
Kelby T. Akin is initially almost boringly perfect as the Hollywood hunk with big guns and a $67 million opening weekend. But the facade proves fragile in a stellar performance in which Akin’s matinee idol morphs into just another struggling actor.
As Roxanne — a bitchy, impatient, frustrated, yet extremely competent stage manager — Laura Latreille is sheer perfection. Though Roxanne gets things done, it’s a stoner in the control booth, offstage with no lines, who is the funniest character here.
An action film star tries to prove he’s a serious actor in a Broadway production of a long-lost Kafka play. While rehearsing with an understudy with a bad attitude whose ex-fiancee is the stage manager, the sparring trio learn a valuable lesson about the business of show business from an action star at the top of the heap.