Review: Broadway Bound Is an Effective, Touching Story of Change

New Jewish Theatre's production of Neil Simon's play is vibrant, hopeful and quite funny

Jan 24, 2023 at 12:55 pm
click to enlarge Eugene and Stanley write together during Broadway Bound.
Jon Gitchoff
Eugene and Stanley write together during Broadway Bound.

In 2019, New Jewish Theatre introduced audiences to the Jerome family, the central characters in Neil Simon's coming-of-age trilogy, in their production of Brighton Beach Memoirs. The family's bittersweet, effectively comic story now comes to a close with the company's heartfelt and touching production of Broadway Bound.

The year is now 1949. Eugene, the Jerome family's younger son, is no longer a teen experiencing the first pangs of maturity from the sidelines as his parents and adult relatives make all the decisions. He has graduated high school, fought in a war and returned home. He holds down a tedious day job while he and his older brother Stanley try to get their big breaak as comedy writers in television or radio. Opportunity arrives with an invitation to submit a sketch to CBS, and the brothers scramble to kick off their careers just as their parents' relationship seems to be entering its final chapter.

Multiple storylines weave in and out of the story as Eugene works toward his future. His older brother Stanley is itching to move to the city. His mom Kate's father Ben is living with the family for now. His pop Jack is spending more and more time away from home, and rumors are flying. His widowed Aunt Blanche has remarried and moved out, and her new husband became successful and wealthy in the post-war economy. And Eugene has met and fallen for the girl he will eventually marry, though that isn't so certain at present.

Director Alan Knoll, who also directed Brighton Beach Memoirs, employs a light touch that nonetheless marks each moment with just the right pause, creating space for laughter, sighs and a touch of sorrow. Jacob Flekier returns as Eugene, effortlessly picking up the conversation with the audience as if we visited with his teenage self just last week. Eugene is more self-assured, with a bit more reflection and maturity added to his observations, though he hasn't lost his sharp tongue or quick retorts.

Also returning from the 2019 cast are Spencer Kruse as older brother Stanley and Chuck Brinkley as Eugene's dad, Jack. Both of these characters have matured in ways that aren't always flattering and neither performer shies away from the flaws. Jack is particularly conflicted and, at times, downright unlikeable, Brinkley shows his character's pain and self-awareness without trying to win the audience over.

Jenni Ryan is surprisingly sympathetic as the nervous and overly critical (on everyone including herself) Kate. Bob Harvey is funny and mostly endearing as grandfather Ben; he's also stubborn, judgmental and caring beneath his gruff exclamations. Christina Rios finds layers of life experience and emotion in Kate's sister Blanche, turning in a memorable, poignant performance in only a few scenes.

Filled with snappy one-liners and witty observations, Broadway Bound is vibrant, hopeful and quite funny, if a bit period specific and cerebral. There's some real sadness and bittersweet depth to the story as well, illustrating both Eugene's maturity and the fact that not every story has a happy ending, even in a comedy.

Catch Broadway Bound at the Wool Theatre (2 Millstone Campus Drive) now through Sunday, February 5. Showtimes vary by day. Tickets are $27.02 to $58.37.

Coming soon: Riverfront Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting St. Louis stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter