The star of Harvey is a 6-foot-tall white rabbit we never see. He's a pooka, a mischievous creature of Celtic lore. But every night at the Studio 54 Theater, Broadway gets a pinch of magic. That's thanks to the charming performance of Jim Parsons, as Elwood P. Dowd, a friendly man, energetic drinker and all-round sweetheart, who claims Harvey as his best friend.
In this delightful revival of Mary Chase's 1944 Pulitzer-winning play, Elwood insists on introducing Harvey to everyone he sees, unnerving his sister Veta (a terrific Jessica Hecht), who fears for her social standing. Though she and Elwood share a special bond, she worries a daffy uncle will limit the marriage options of daughter Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo.) So Veta decides to commit her seemingly loopy brother to Chumley's Rest Home.
Of course, the doctors at the sanitarium are either prissy (Charles Kimbrough) or dismissive (Morgan Spector); neither is a match for the polite Elwood, who orbits his own universe with calm self-possession. Harvey not only questions the sanity of the supposedly sane, but notes that a little eccentricity may be just what the doctor ordered.
Most people are familiar with the 1950 movie starring Jimmy Stewart. Here, a pitch-perfect Parsons, best known from TV's The Big Bang Theory, makes Elwood his own in a nicely produced show.
That's thanks to a smart cast, David Rockwell's lovely set, particularly the Dowd mansion, and Scott Ellis' seamless direction. It's fun for the audience, who, in their 21st-century stress states, will probably agree with the gentle Elwood:
"Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be' -- she always called me Elwood -- 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me."
Pleasantries are not Jackie Hoffman's strong suit. Her stock-in-trade is smart, cynical humor, augmented by musical numbers that send up pop culture, New York and celebrity. A regular at Joe's Pub, Hoffman has brought her downtown sensibility uptown to the new and very swanky 54 Below nightclub, evoking pre-war glamor, just under the Studio 54 Theater.
Designed by Tony Award winner John Lee Beatty and architect Richard Lewis, it is a perfect venue for entertainers and audiences; there isn't a bad seat in the house.
Hoffman, who performs through July 29, mocks the history of the place, once a notorious drugs and sex-fueled cellar for Studio 54's trendy denizens, in a nod to her gay following: "Gays love a bottom."
A veteran of three Broadway musicals -- Hairspray, Xanadu, The Addams Family -- she is fearless about lampooning everyone from Woody Allen to Cirque du Soleil, Broadway and its legendary performers. Her sassy numbers, belted out with gleeful venom, are what make the show such fun. The award-winning Hoffman is equally happy to zing her own career, proving that honesty, however costly, is great fodder for art.
She has turned personal kvetching into an insightful and entertaining evening, accompanied by Will Van Dyke on piano. If you haven't seen her before, get acquainted.
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