Tony Roberts, you know, is a beloved actor from a bunch of Woody Allen films, from “Serpico,” from tons more movie and TV performances and Broadway shows like “Victor/Victoria.” In the latter he lived through Liza Minnelli flubbing her lines.
Last night when he made his entrance on Broadway in the opening performance of “The Royal Family,” Tony got thunderous applause. That’s because it was only this past Sunday, during the matinee, when he became ill and the show had to be halted. Roberts was rushed to the hospital, with a seizure. Talk about drama.
But there he was last night, looking fit, if not as a fiddle, then as a 69 year-old actor who was determined to get back on stage. He’s playing a theatrical agent who must come to terms with his actresses’ talk of retirement. A little ironic, no? But Roberts was pretty pleased with his performance. He got an extra big ovation at the end of the show as well.
“I am relieved,” he told me at the “Royal Family” after party. Seeing the gigantic fur trimmed overcoat he wears in one scene, I told him it was possible that’s what knocked him out on Sunday. “It takes four ladies to help me on with it,” he replied. “It very well could be.”
Everyone from the cast, starting with star Rosemary Harris, heaped kudos on Roberts. At one point Harris had to help him through a line last night ‘ something minor. She said, “Oh he would have gotten it. It was nothing.”
But it was something, because in the audience Roberts had a lot of famous actors pulling for him. Blair Brown, Joel Grey, Frances Sternhagen, Kate Mulgrew, Tovah Felshuh, and Mary Louise Wilson were just a few of the heavyweights who were rooting for Tony, but also maybe identifying a lot with the George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber 1927 comedy as reinterpreted by director Doug Hughes. This first “Royal Family” on Broadway since 1976 is a total winner, from Harris and Roberts to a stellar cast that turns Jan Maxwell into a sensation as Julie, a Broadway actress who is trying to rein in her crazy theatrical family and get a grip on her own life.
As Julie declares her independence from theater and family at the end of Act 2, I asked Blair Brown, who was sitting next to me, if she’d ever done that. “I did it just this morning.” she joked. Actually, she’s featured on the TV series “Fringe,” so I guess it didn’t work!
The Cavendish family is sort of modeled on the real life Barrymores. But the Bs were never this much fun. The strange thing is that “Royal Family” seems very contemporary for something written 82 years ago. Reg Rogers is outstanding as Tony, the family’s movie star. He might as well be Brad-Leo-Sean Penn the way he romances and drops girls, brawls with the press. The rest of the cast is just as good, but it’s Maxwell who pulls it all together. It’s a shame “Royal Family,” like Jude Law’s “Hamlet,” only runs 12 weeks. You wish they could stay longer so everyone you know could see them!