“The Sunshine Boys” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ April 1, 2013


Arizona Theatre Company, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

“The Sunshine Boys” is far from Neil Simon’s best comedy and in the plodding Arizona Theatre Company production, the show drags on for an eternity.  Although each act runs an hour, by the eagerly anticipated intermission, the first act seemed far longer.  Back in 1972, when the show premiered, it seemed funnier, faster, and much more fun.  It apparently hasn’t stood the test of time at all.

“The Sunshine Boys” looks at an old vaudevillian team who are estranged after 43 years of doing the same now dull comedy routine.  The pair attempt to re-unite only to quibble and carry on about trivial annoyances that previously plagued them.  The vaudeville team, Willie Clark and Al Lewis, revive the act for a planned television comedy tribute.

Simon doesn’t create any of his usual comic zingers; instead he writes predictable jokes that aren’t especially funny in the slow motion David Ira Goldstein staging and in the hands of mediocre performers who struggle to get laughs out of the material.  A few mild chuckles here and there are about all this listless production nets.

Goldstein is usually adept at staging comic shenanigans and he can create funny situations even when presenting a weak farce.  But here, the routine production lacks sparkle, comic inventiveness, and results in tedious boredom.

For comedies, Goldstein usually gathers a gifted cast of witty actors but here everyone seems to be walking through their parts so the audience isn’t carried along by much fun.  Peter Van Norden’s Willie should have been a rapid fire comic lightening performance but he seems bored and tired as he plods through the bland one-liners.  That this Willie could have ever had an audience laughing seems like a far-fetched impossibility.  David Green is a bit better as Al but then this part is less funny because he just sets up the humorous situations for Willie.  There’s never fire or comic conviction in either performance so there’s little malarkey in the routines that made the team famous.

The supporting players disappoint.  Especially below par is Bob Sorenson as Ben, the guy who reunites the team.  The role doesn’t seem well suited to Sorenson and he does nothing with it as he drags through it.  Lillie Richardson plays a Nurse in the routine but she doesn’t spark comically nor do either of the other two lifeless actors.

While waiting to be seated, I noticed a $94 price on each the press seats I had.  If I had paid $188 for a pair of tickets to “The Sunshine Boys” I would have felt taken.  The production earns two stars out of five and continues through April 14th.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: D