Tom Hanks sporting '80s-ish facial hair was explaining the difference between his naturally grown mustache and that of the character he portrays in his Broadway debut Lucky Guy, the play by the late Nora Ephron based on the life of Mike McAlary. His went out in tough bristles, Hanks gesticulated madly bringing his hands under his nose where a tight, well clipped fringe sat by contrast. A gaggle of interviewers laughed.
The mood at the Broadhurst Theater and at Gotham Hall for Lucky Guy's opening night on Monday was bittersweet exuberance: with the tearful final moment of the play, when Hanks, as McAlary after a near-death accident and sick with the cancer that killed him, delivers a weighty speech and a portrait of Nora Ephron hangs over the stage. Hanks was not the only one crying.
Lucky Guy is not just the story of Mike McAlary. Rather, evoking the boisterous bars and back-biting newsrooms habituated by the tabloid press of the time, including foul mouths, smoking, and shoulder pads, Lucky Guy is the story of an era told with wit, fine ensemble work by Christopher McDonald, Maura Tierney, Courtney B. Vance, Peter Gerety among them, under George C. Wolfe's expert direction. Ephron had an ear for the language, and the instinct to know exactly how to sound those resonant Zeitgeist notes. Of course McAlary's career, brief as it was, at Newsweek, the Daily News, the New York Post, limned familiar New York history: the case of Abner Louima, the victim of police brutality, is an example. One of the pleasures of Lucky Guy is a lesson in journalism. We learn McAlary's secret to success: just how to interview subjects, crack them so they willingly give you the story eluding everyone else.
Ephron worked with EVERYONE, and had many genuine friends: a Who's Who paid homage: Mayor Bloomberg, Mike Nichols, Stephen Daldry, Spike Lee, Larry David, Joy Behar, Barbara Walters, Meg Ryan, Rosie Perez, Jeffrey Wright, Richard Kind, Bobby Cannavale, Sting, Trudie Styler, Holland Taylor who stars in Ann, as in Ann Richards, in the smart and entertaining one-woman show she also wrote, and Hanks' wife Rita Wilson, not to forget the journalists and writers: Ephron's family Nick Pileggi, Jacob Bernstein, Pete Hamill, David Remnick, Richard Cohen. Even Mort Zuckerman was there.
Meantime, Monday's tabloid press was divided between interviewing Tom Hanks in one part of town, and Robert Redford, seated at a side table at the elegant Harmony in another, celebrating his new movie, The Company You Keep. Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Judd Hirsch, Oren Moverman, and Bill Magnussen, the eye candy in the hilarious Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike were only some of those clinking Avion glasses and munching swordfish and oyster canapes. Mike McAlary reported tirelessly on some of the most scandalous events of his day, frequenting noisy, smoky saloons. He might not have liked this chandelier lit space as much, but Nora Ephron would have appreciated every bite.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.