What is that sound? Scrunching wheels as its engine purrs effortlessly along the Strand, the whiff of expensive leather upholstery as the door opens on turning into Savoy Court? Ah yes, the unmistakable arrival of the Star Vehicle as it parks in its reserved space for the next twelve weeks.
‘The Sunshine Boys’ is a Neil Simon comedy about two retired Vaudeville comedians briefly reunited, along with their long-standing personal feud, for a one-off CBS television broadcast. Famously filmed with Walter Matthau and George Burns it’s often revived for high-profile actors at the peak of their career and comic powers.
The star for whom this luxurious conveyance is currently provided is Danny DeVito, chauffeured to his West End debut but so perfectly solution-dyed Jersey Shore Jewish that the lines might have been written freshly for him. His partner is British national treasure Richard Griffiths, undoubtedly one of the finest actors in London – excellent in Equus and nothing short of immaculate in The History Boys. However this may not be his most comfortable piece of casting as he seems uneasy with the accent and the cadences of Noo Yoikspeak.
De Vito plays Willie Clark’s sarcastic irascibility so close to the Muppets' oldtimer Waldorf that you long for him to have the equally sharp repartee of his colleague Statler, whereas Griffiths' character Al Lewis comes over rather more languid and detached than a Seinfeld-paced production could expect.
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud lines, and even a couple of touching moments as the sadness and the long-term affection of people who’ve worked together for forty years is given stage time. But the ending’s disappointing, as though Neil Simon calculated he’d written two hours of dialogue and could turn the piece in.
Talking of which, that must be 300 words by now. Oh, one more.
Written for Londonist and published on 24 May 2012