EmptyStudio 54, New York
Through Dec. 2
The Roundabout's production of Terrence McNally's 1975 comedy "The Ritz" demonstrates it to be as much of a period piece as the 18th century French farces that inspired it. But while this tale of a frantic overweight man hiding out in a gay bathhouse to escape the wrath of his mobster brother-in-law is more than a little dated, it still delivers enough laughs to more than justify this revival. It's also fun to again hear the din of disco music in what used to be the legendary nightclub Studio 54.
Kevin Chamberlin and Rosie Perez star as the hapless Gaetano Proclo and the Latin spitfire Googie Gomez, roles originally played by the late James Coco and Rita Moreno. When Proclo's father-in-law orders a hit on him as his last dying wish, he hides out in the Ritz, unaware of the nature of its clientele. There, he encounters more than he bargained for in the form of numerous scantily clad gay men on the prowl, including a highly persistent chubby chaser (Patrick Kerr).
The resulting shenanigans, including the ambitious if untalented Googie mistaking Proclo for a legit producer and his pursuit by a private investigator (Terrence Riordan) with an impossibly high voice, don't display much in the way of sophisticated wit. But the outlandish characters and situations are undeniably funny, and the playwright's obvious affection for characters like the flamboyant Chris (Brooks Ashmanskas), who declares that "sex is just my way of saying hello," goes a long way toward making up for the stereotypes on display.
Joe Mantello's production is suitably lively, using the aisles and side boxes of the theater to great effect. There are numerous high points in the staging, including a gonzo show tunes medley hilariously performed by Perez and a funny if brief "Pippin" spoof featuring Seth Rudetsky. And whoever thought of blaring Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" whenever the chubby chaser spots his prey deserves special credit.
The performers mine the comedy for all its worth, with Chamberlin not missing a beat with his increasingly hysterical reactions, and Perez, wearing a succession of increasingly frightening wigs, matching him laugh for laugh. The supporting players are equally terrific, including Lenny Venito as the vengeful brother-in-law and Ashlie Atkinson as Proclo's aggrieved wife.
Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company
Playwright: Terrence McNally
Director: Joe Mantello
Set designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designers: Jules Fisher, Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound designer: Tony Meola
Choreography: Christopher Gattelli
Googie Gomez: Rosie Perez
Gaetano Proclo: Kevin Chamberlin
Chris: Brooks Ashmanskas
Vivian Proclo: Ashlie Atkinson
Claude Perkins: Patrick Kerr
Michael Brick: Terrence Riordan