Tom Hanks would make his Broadway debut only in a special play, and any play written by Nora Ephron is.
Those are just facts, and at its essence, this is a play about facts. Any piece about newspapers and a true newspaperman is about facts.
“Lucky Guy,” which has already been extended to July 3, regularly causes pedestrian gridlock on 44th St. when the audience lets out at the Broadhurst Theatre and people queue up to see Hanks.
The play captures a great time in newspapers. It was such a great time and it is so well replicated on stage that it’s hard to divorce that and see just the play. Even though this is Ephron’s final play and Hanks’ first Broadway appearance, it is not an excellent play. It is, though, incredible fun, particularly for those of us lucky enough to have lived some of it.
For newspaper reporters, it was not quite the era of “The Front Page” but it was a wonderful time, the last vestiges of when newspapers were truly important.
Newsrooms, in their heyday, were the most fun you could have at a job in which you kept your clothes on, and Ephron captures that with her usual wit. Before she segued into movies, plays and books, Ephron was a newspaper reporter who understood that once very male world of guys who swaggered, where even the morons had more on the ball than most people.
Reporters went out to interview people, worked their sources, made deadline and then hit the bar. Every newspaper had a bar where its staff hung out, and this opens, fittingly, in the bar where a bunch of the reporters and editors, all men, are singing Irish drinking songs, something that has been known to happen in bars catering to journalists.
Our hero, Mike McAlary (Hanks), loves journalism, believes in it, wants in on every story, and is willing to do what it takes to get the story. McAlary won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Abner Louima case, the hideous story of cops raping an immigrant.
For those who didn’t watch New York’s tabloid wars of the late ’80s and early ’90s, McAlary was a real person. He died just after turning 41 in 1998, making Hanks, 56, a little old for the role.
Hanks plays McAlary as a little more hesitant than most swaggering newspapermen. He’s married to Alice (Maura Tierney, “ER” “Rescue Me”). His drinking buddy and editor, John Cotter is played by Peter Gerety (Broadway’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” TV’s “The Good Wife”), who turns in a fine performance, and Courtney B. Vance (Broadway’s “Fences,” “TV’s “Flash Forward”) is excellent as Hap Hairston, McAlary’s friend and beleaguered editor.
The person who helped McAlary more than any source or editor was his lawyer, Eddie Hayes (Christopher McDonald, Broadway’s “Chicago,” TV’s “Harry’s Law”), who guided his career and secured his contracts. He negotiated McAlary more money than most print reporters make in well — I can’t do the math, because I am a dyed-in-the-wool newspaperwoman.
Eddie is slick and funny, and McDonald clearly has a blast from the moment he strides on stage, better dressed than anyone in the cast. McAlary ping pongs among the tabs — the News, the Post, Newsday. Each time he moves, it is for more money, more fame.
All the characters ring true, and director George C. Wolfe does a great job of keeping the action moving. Every actor looks as if he could easily walk into a newsroom, curse, bang out a story and bend an elbow that night. Deirdre Lovejoy, as the lone woman in the newsroom (first as a reporter, then as a different character, the editor), also nails her roles.
Set when crack was raging throughout the city and police corruption was rife to be exposed, McAlary got his stories and kept getting them.
Ultimately, it was at great expense to him, but he, too, made a great story. And that’s something that the late, great Ephron could appreciate and make the rest of us appreciate as well.