If I could go back in time one of the things I would do first is see the original Broadway production of “The Odd Couple” with Walter Matheau and Art Carney. Of course, I grew up watching Tony Randall and Jack Klugman do the roles of Felix and Oscar and have seen the movie version with Matheau and Jack Lemmon many times. Watching Lemmon, I can’t help but imagine what Carney would have been like opposite Matheau. From what I hear from those who saw them it was comic nirvana.
I never did see Mathew Broderick and Nathan Lane in “The Producers” but when I heard the two were going to star in a revival of Neil Simon’s famous play I thought, ‘Aren’t they gilding the lily?’ And with Lane playing Oscar and Broderick playing Felix, surely they’ve go the casting mixed up. Looking at the still photographs in today’s papers, Lane looks all wrong for Oscar. Remember in the movie version of “La Cage Aux Folles” when Robin Williams tries to get Lane walk like a manly straight man and Lane can’t help but look like a Queen? The joke is that he’s incorrigibly effeminate. Seeing Lane dressed up Oscar seems like an unintentional extension of that joke.
In an excellent review today, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley notes:
As this set-to-a-metronome production, directed by Joe Mantello, demonstrates with such clarity, the comic languages of “The Producers” and “The Odd Couple” are not the same. The humor of “The Odd Couple” is rooted in watching ordinary guys, equipped with an extraordinary arsenal of zingers, turn each other into irreconcilable caricatures of themselves, the way people do in bad marriages. The characters in “The Producers” are stylishly drawn cartoons, shaped by the performers’ delighted awareness of belonging to the intoxicating, heightened reality of musical comedy.
A similar self-consciousness informs Mr. Lane’s and Mr. Broderick’s attitudes in “The Odd Couple,” which automatically creates a distance between them and the men they are playing. Their performances are framed in quotation marks. Mr. Lane is “doing” macho and slovenly; Mr. Broderick is “doing” repressed and anal-retentive. That’s different from being slovenly or anal-retentive. And the gap between doing and being fatally exposes the cogs and gears of Mr. Simon’s impeccably assembled comic clockwork.
Brantley’s write up is worth checking out; the production sounds like it’s worth missing.