'Boeing-Boeing'

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If there's one element that's essential to any successful farce, it's slamming doors, and "Boeing-Boeing" happily has them in spades. Mark Camoletti's vintage 1960s sex comedy, which originally enjoyed record-breaking runs in Paris and London, was a fast flop when it first premiered on Broadway. But this hilarious revival, which was a hit last season on the West End, might well rectify that.

Best remembered here for the mediocre film version starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis, "Boeing-Boeing" revolves around the romantic misadventures of Bernard (Bradley Whitford), a playboy architect living in Paris who has worked out an ingenious system in which he juggles three fiancees, all air hostesses with conveniently different schedules. But just when his old friend Robert (Mark Rylance, repeating his Olivier-nominated turn) — an innocent rube from Wisconsin — shows up for an unannounced visit, Bernard's elaborate scheme suddenly falls to pieces. All of the women show up nearly simultaneously, with the inevitable chaos ensuing.

The mechanics of the story line are undeniably cliched, and the humor becomes seriously strained by a 21/2-hour running time. But the play is nonetheless a laugh riot thanks in large part to the delicious opportunities it offers to the performers, who soar under the skillful direction of Matthew Warchus.

Rylance, one of England's finest classical actors and the former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, delivers a near-classic comic turn that is hilarious from beginning to end. Sporting a perfect Midwestern accent, the actor's clowning is so perfect in its physicality and timing that he comes across like a reborn Chaplin and Keaton combined.

Nearly his match is Mary McCormack as Gretchen, a Teutonic Amazon who is as fearsome as she is deliciously sexy. Gina Gershon and Kathryn Hahn, as the other members of Bernard's private harem, are also wonderfully funny, as is the priceless Christine Baranski as the beleaguered maid, Berthe.

The minor weak link in the otherwise perfect ensemble is the miscast Whitford, who seems to be straining here. Lacking the suavity necessary for the role, the actor delivers an overly subdued performance, with his occasional attempts at flailing physical comedy more distracting than amusing.

Adding greatly to the evening's pleasures are the candy-colored, sexy, skintight costumes for the women, which accentuate their curves to a degree that makes Robert's newly unleashed sexual hunger all too understandable, and a wonderful curtain-call dance routine that sends the audience out on a delirious high. (partialdiff)
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