Saturday, April 20, 2024

Review: “Of Mice and Men” Brings Broadway Debuts for Franco, O’Dowd and Meester


No one can be unhappy with the new Broadway production of “Of Mice and Men.” Certainly not John Steinbeck. Except for opening night last night, the audiences are young people, lots of girls, who probably think an actual rodent is involved.

They are coming for James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, and Leighton Meester, all making Broadway debuts. Franco they know from “This is the End,” O’Dowd from “Bridesmaids,” Meester from “Gossip Girl.” Most nights the audience has no idea that Anna Shapiro also directed “August: Osage County.” They probably hear it as “Orange County.”

The opening night audience was replete with stars: Joe Morton, Paul Haggis, and Jeremy Piven were scattered about. Franco’s actor brother Dave was there, as were many Franco family members including 90 year old art dealer grandmother Mitzi.

Katie Couric was also present. She had an ulterior purpose: her charity, Stand Up to Cancer, had organized the night and sponsored the after dinner at the Plaza Hotel ballroom. Swanky!

A nice touch: at the end of show, Chris O’Dowd jumped down off the stage and swooped Anna Shapiro up so she could take a bow. Nice touch.

The show: as soon as “Of Mice and Men” began I realized I was mouthing a lot of the words. Oh, those rabbits. They’re back. No one in the cast is bad; it’s just degrees of what works now and what may gel later. O’Dowd, I thought, was exceptional, totally absorbed into Lennie. You felt for him all the way through.

Franco has incredible presence, and no problem being heard. He’s a little flat in the first act, where he’s also saddled with a huge amount of expository dialogue. As he settles in, Franco’s performance will grow. For the moment, he’s just busy as George making sure the trains run on time. There are a lot of trains.

Leighton Meester would have been an excellent failure if she’d failed. After all, “Gossip Girl”? But like Blake Lively and Penn Badgely, Meester shows she has more in her repertoire. She’s not Eva LaGallienne. But she’s very likable, conveys enough to make her climactic scene memorable.

Kudos to the whole supporting cast. I really liked Jim Parrack, Ron Cephas Jones, and Jim Norton.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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