Abe Burrows' 1965 comedy Cactus Flower would not be a likely candidate for revival with its retrograde-if quaintly hilarious-take on matters of the heart. But Burrows' musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize is now in previews on Broadway; maybe there's business in the madness.
At the Westside Theater opening Thursday night, director Michael Bush explained, he wanted to do the quintessential 60's comedy. Silly in the manner of a Feydeau-farce set in a dentist's office, a bedroom, a nightclub, with lots of doors slamming, this Cactus Flower still has such charm and good spirit, it makes for a delightful evening of theater. And the crowd that showed up in the teeming rain: Leslie Uggams, Hayley Mills, Penny Fuller, seemed pleased, especially with the performances of soap opera veteran Lois Robbins, Maxwell Caulfield (best known for Grease 2), and an ensemble that includes Jenni Barber, Jeremy Bobb, John Herrera, Anthony Reimer, Robin Skye and Emily Walton.
Of course the play is most memorable for the film starring Goldie Hawn in a blond pixie cut. But Jenni Barber, who did so well in last year's Bridge Project As You Like It and The Tempest at BAM, said at the after party at B. Smith, it was Edie Sedgwick who most influenced her look and performance. The actress went to MoMA and studied the screen test prominent in the Warhol exhibition on the museum's 6th floor. She was so open and vulnerable, without a hint of cynicism, said Barber. How else can you explain a girl who is as gullible and big hearted as her character Toni Simmons, when her deceitful boyfriend tells her he's married and she insists upon meeting his wife, the conceit that sets off the play's mountain of improbabilities. Lois Robbins said she took the role of Stephanie Dickinson, the dutiful nurse who plays along as Dr. Winston's wife, the "cactus flower," when one of the producers said, it will change your life. Robbins laughed, I guess we will see tomorrow, when the reviews come out.
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