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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Living on Love (Longacre Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

Oh, dear. I’m afraid Joe DiPietro’s reworking of Garson Kanin’s last play “Peccadillo” as a vehicle for Renee Fleming's Broadway legit debut is just about as mediocre as a show can be.

The Kanin original, from the little I’ve been able to read of the text, doesn’t exactly seem any great shakes either, but I’d be willing to bet that, done well, it would have more to commend it than the at-best-pleasant but strictly provincial summer stock concoction holding the stage now. Someone like Ken Ludwig might have made much more of this material, but “Lend Me a Tenor” this is not.

The original “Peccadillo” seems to have played Ft. Lauderdale in 1985. (Ft. Lauderdale actually comes in for some drubbing in this version.) The cast included Christopher Plummer, Glynis Johns and Kelly McGillis, all of whom sound a lot more interesting on paper than the present crew.

As for the plot, the time is 1957. Vito De Angelis (Douglas Sills) is a famous conductor, forever resenting Leonard Bernstein’s greater good fortune. His wife Raquel (Fleming) is a famous operatic diva on the decline; in the original, she had given up her career for the sake of her husband. Here, Ft. Lauderdale is, in fact, one of the few places she can be booked. Vito is working with ghost writer Robert (Jerry O’Connell) on a memoir, but it is going painfully slow.

Robert, though, is utterly smitten with Raquel, and before long, he’s helping her with her memoirs, after Robert’s pretty editor Iris (Anna Chlumsky) takes over the Vito assignment. Romantic sparks soon begin to fly between Vito and Iris, and between Robert and Raquel, with farcical complications.

There are also a pair of “comic” menservants, Bruce (Blake Hammond) and Eric (Scott Robertson), who are slavishly devoted to the De Angelis household.

The single most enjoyable sequence of the evening is a delightful interlude (having absolutely nothing to do with the play) wherein Hammond and Robertson perform the old Eddie Cantor chestnut “Makin’ Whoopee.” However, the two of them are also responsible for the most cringe-worthy moment of the show, when towards the end, they profess their love for each other in the sappiest of sentimental declarations.

Robert is written in the most dreadfully irritating manner. When asked not to touch the snow globes that Vito and Raquel have amassed from their world travels, for instance, he does just that at the first opportunity. Why? He’s a total doofus in every way, and I’m afraid O’Connell adds not one iota of charm to the part. Chlumsky, for her part, is appealing but it’s a nothing role.

Fleming goes through her paces agreeably enough, and delivers her dialogue competently, though she’s hardly convincing as a self-absorbed diva. Every so often she sings a few bars of an aria, sounding lovely, of course. And, near the end, she and Sills deliver a sweet version of “Always.” But as far as a future legit career is concerned, let’s just say that Cherry Jones needn’t pack her bags. In another era, one might envision Fleming guest-starring on Carol Burnett’s show as a lark, and that’s about the level of material here.

The most complete performance comes from Sills, with a faux Italian accent, though his part is a caricature. This was to have been a limited engagement through August 2, but it is now closing this Sunday.

(Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street; Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The King and I (Lincoln Center Theater)

By Harry Forbes

This opulent revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s enduring 1951 classic certainly has much to commend it. For starters, theatergoers have come to expect the collaboration of star Kelli O’Hara and director Bartlett Sher to guarantee a special experience, and indeed they won’t be disappointed.

Their last R&H outing – also at the Beaumont – was the splendid “South Pacific.” Still, for all its excellence, “The King and I” doesn’t quite scale the same magical heights, and for all Sher and his team’s attempts to rethink the show from top to bottom, I can’t say it surpasses other productions I’ve encountered over the years, including the last Broadway revival (1999) with Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips.

O’Hara looks wonderful with her red wig and Victorian gowns, sings beautifully, employs a convincing English accent (after her Italian housewife in “Bridges of Madison County,” I think she’s become the Meryl Streep of Broadway musicals), and acts intelligently, but for all of that, I found her performance a little soft-grained and lacking in dynamism.

The great Japanese actor Ken Watanabe was a clever, out-of-the-box choice for the king, but as early reports indicated, his command of English proves shaky, and much of his delivery of the familiar dialogue is unintelligible or nearly so. Besides Phillips, non-Yul Brynner Kings of my experience have included Darren McGavin, Michael Kermoyan, Jason Lee, and even Rudolf Nureyev, and they’ve all been quite satisfying. There’s no denying that Watanabe is a commanding stage presence, his acting choices never less than interesting. The language issue, though, is a detriment.

Ruthie Ann Miles, so wonderful in the Imelda Marcos musical, “Here Lies Love,” plays head wife, Lady Thiang, with great sensitivity. She projects the requisite dignity, and her big moment, “Something Wonderful,” earns a deservedly strong ovation. So, too, Ashley Park’s slave girl Tuptim, is terrific both dramatically and musically. Paul Nakauchi as the Kralahome is also excellent.

Christopher Gatelli’s choreography honors the Jerome Robbins’ original, with “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet a gorgeous highpoint, as ever.

That number works particularly well on the large Beaumont thrust stage, but I felt that elsewhere, the vastness of the playing area somewhat diffuses the show’s impact, even though Sher blocks most of the action downstage. The opening scene – the approach of Captain Orton’s (Murphy Guyer) ship as it brings Anna and her son (Jake Lucas) to Bangkok as the stage slides over the large orchestra pit – is pretty thrilling, and certainly brings the action close.

And when Anna and the King cut loose with “Shall We Dance?” the Beaumont stage affords them as much space as Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner had in the film.

Ted Sperling conducts the 29-piece orchestra with palpable affection. The musical’s original 1951 orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett are used, of course, with Trude Rittmann’s dance and incidental music.

Michael Yeargan’s sets are darkly sumptuous and Catherine Zuber’s costumes exotically colorful. Scott Lehrer’s sound design is admirably natural though at times I wished for a punchier volume.

(Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th Street; Telecharge.com, or KingandIBroadway.com)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Visit (Lyceum Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

Broadway at last! The John Kander and Fred Ebb musical, originally conceived as a vehicle for Angela Lansbury, who withdrew from the show because of her husband’s illness to be replaced by Chita Rivera, has enjoyed productions dating back to 2001 at Chicago’s Goodman Theater, followed later by mountings at the Signature Theater in Virginia (2008) and Williamstown last year. There was also a 2011 concert reading.

I didn’t catch any of those, but the Williamstown production that has arrived on the Great White Way after this protracted tryout, under the direction of John Doyle (with choreography by Graciela Daniele), is quite superb.

For starters, this is, I think, one of the best Kander and Ebb scores, richly varied, with not a weak number in the bunch: “You, You, You,” “Love and Love Alone,” “The Only One.” Larry Hochman’s orchestrations and David Loud’s arrangements are simply lovely, creating a moody and distinctive European sound palette that pulls you right in.

Scott Pask’s striking scenic design, a dilapidated train station cutaway, it’s broken skylight looming over the ominous action is quite compelling (as lighted by Japhy Weideman), creating the perfect setting for Claire to make her entrance, bedecked in Ann Hould-Ward’s glamorous duds, accompanied by her mysterious white-faced entourage, a butler (Tom Nelis) and two eunuchs (Matthew Deming and Chris Newcomer), and a black coffin.

Terrence McNally’s book is remarkably faithful to Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 play. Insanely wealthy widow Claire (Rivera) returns to the town of Brachen that once scorned her. The townspeople expect she’ll beneficently restore their faded fortunes. But she is, in fact, seeking vengeance on the man who loved and betrayed her, Anton Schell (Roger Rees) now remarried (Mary Beth Peil). Claire will give the town billions if they will kill Anton. Of course, the mayor (David Garrison), the priest (Rick Holmes), and the schoolteacher (Jason Danieley) reluctantly assert they cannot, in all conscience, comply, But human nature soon rears its ugly head.

Following in the footsteps of John McMartin, George Hearn, Mark Jacoby, and John Cullum, a bearded Roger Rees gives an especially fine dramatic performance, and sings well, too. Michelle Veintimilla and John Riddle beautifully play the couple in their days as young lovers.

Rivera is quite the marvel, giving an authoritative and well sung performance (even though her voice has more of a vinegar flavor than ever).

Dan Moses Schreier’s sensitive sound design contributes to the compelling dramatic and musical ambiance which is sustained all evening long.

I look forward to the recently announced CD of this beautiful score.

(Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.; Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200)

Photo: Chita Rivera and the cast of "The Visit." Credit: Thom Kaine

Sunday, April 19, 2015

It Shoulda Been You (Brooks Atkinson Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

This musical about a wedding going dreadfully haywire is featherweight to be sure, but decked out with an impressive cast of Broadway pros, and directed with great style by David Hyde Pierce (in his Broadway directorial debut), it’s really quite entertaining.

As Rebecca Steinberg (Sierra Boggess) and Brian Howard (David Burtka) get ready to tie the knot on their wedding day (on Anna Louizos’ classy two-tier hotel set), it’s clear that neither of their families is entirely keen on the prospect. The bride’s parents (Tyne Daly and Chip Zien) think Rebecca’s former beau, Marty Kaufman (Josh Grisetti) would have been the better bet, as they sing to him in the number that gives the show its title.

The groom’s alcoholic mother (Harriet Harris) has her own issues about losing her beloved son. And it’s taken a stint in therapy for his materialistic father (Michael X. Martin) even to begin to bond with him.

Cultural differences between the Jewish Steinbergs and the Catholic Howards complicate matters further. Rebecca’s overweight sister Jenny (Lisa Howard) must endure her mother’s ongoing criticism about her appearance but tries to hold it together for her sister’s sake. Best man Greg (Nick Spangler) and bridesmaid Annie (Montego Glover) are on hand to help when things get out of hand…as you know they will do.

Overseeing the farcical complications is effete wedding planner Albert (Edward Hibbert). Rounding out the top-flight cast are Adam Heller and Anne L. Nathan as Rebecca’s Uncle Morty and Aunt Sheila, and they also double as the hotel staff.

There are some genuinely surprising twists and turns in the plot which would spoil your pleasure to reveal, but as the intermission-less evening proceeds, the show morphs from pleasantly amusing to out and out funny. And each of the principals gets their musical moment in the spotlight. Glover and Spangler’s over-the-top wedding song to the bride and groom, to name one, is especially droll.

Daly, Harris, and Hibbert score highest on the laugh meter with masterly comic timing and peerless line delivery. The script focuses on Jenny, though, and Howard really delivers, getting the star bow at show’s end, too.

Barbara Anselmi’s score is mostly just serviceable but occasionally more than that (e.g. “Whatever,” “Jenny’s Blues”), while Brian Hargrove’s solidly constructed book provides real laughs, and his lyrics are frequently witty. (Additional lyrics are credited to Jill Abramovitz, Carla Rose Fisher, Michael Cooper, Ernie Lijoi and Will Randall.)

The production team is as top-drawer as the cast: William Ivey Long (Costume Design), Ken Billington (Lighting Design), and Nevin Steinberg (Sound Design).

It’s easy to dismiss the show as “mere” sitcom material, but in truth, the show is constructed with consummate skill on every level, and cannily played by a cast that strikes just the right tone. We’ve seen our share of wedding comedies, but this is one with a decidedly different spin.

It’s a pleasure to have a true musical comedy on Broadway again, emphasis on comedy. The audience at my performance clearly enjoyed itself, and I suspect, if you give yourself up to it, you will, too.

(Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th Street) Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-653-8000)

Photo by Joan Marcus: Chip Zien, Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Michael X. Martin

Saturday, April 18, 2015

An American in Paris (Palace Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

No need to mince words here, this is one of the very best movie-musical-to-stage adaptations, a model, in fact, of how it should be done. Not slavishly faithful to the film, but keeping quite close in spirit to its source, while further respecting the audience with an uncommonly intelligent script and musical numbers that don’t pander to the lowest common denominator.

It was, in fact, hugely instructive to see this show on the very next night after attending “Gigi.” Consider: both originated from MGM’s fabled Arthur Freed unit, were directed by Vincente Minnelli, starred Leslie Caron, were written by Alan Jay Lerner, were multiple Oscar winners each copping Best Picture, and, of course, were set in Paris, but vive le difference!

This ultra classy affair, with director Christopher Wheeldon’s superb choreography and direction, Bob Crowley’s strikingly evocative sets and costumes, Rob Fisher’s sophisticated musical arrangements (and Christopher Austin's orchestrations), Craig Lucas’ fine script that doesn’t shy away from some dark elements, and a roster of truly fine performances that don’t set you longing for the original stars.

Lucas has transposed the story closer to the end of the Paris occupation, so the aftermath of World War II is still very much apparent. (Lerner's script for the 1951 film was distanced from those events.)

But the basic plot remains the same. Ex-GI Jerry Mulligan (Robert Fairchild) is trying to make his mark as an artist, befriends a musician Adam (Brandon Uranowitz), and falls for a girl Lise (Leanne Cope) who, it happens, is engaged to Jerry and Adam’s friend Henri (Max von Essen), here a would-be entertainer, unlike the film’s Georges Guetary who was the real deal.

Among Lucas’ embellishments, Adam is now a composer working on the ballet that will be designed by Jerry, and will star Lise. Henri’s sexuality is here suspect, and his parents (Veanne Cox and Scott Wilson), wealthy textile merchants, are major characters. And Adam is secretly in love with Lise as well, adding romantic complications.

Despite the occasional homage to Gene Kelly’s choreography, Wheeldon’s work here is more classically balletic, though he employs a number of dancing styles. The show opens with a fairly dark-themed pantomime showing the aftermath of the occupation, including how certain collaborators were dispatched. You might think that a little heavy in concept, but it works.

Crowley’s set and Natasha Katz’s lighting design are similarly subdued at the start but the color palette and illumination brighten as the show progresses.

The songs – liberally lifted from the Gershwin songbook – are wonderfully integrated, and unlike other Gershwin-derived musicals, don’t sound awkwardly shoe-horned in, even when, say, Lise begins singing something as familiar from other contexts as “The Man I Love.”
The arrangements are most attractive, too, as when Jerry, Adam, and Henri harmonize, as they do on a few occasions (e.g. “‘S Wonderful,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”), or when characters are singing at cross purposes (as in “For You, For Me, For Evermore”).

The cast is quite wonderful across the board. Fairchild is a marvel, dancing like a dream, singing most attractively, and projecting just the right sort of regular guy persona that never allows the dancing to seem pretentious. British ballet star Leanne Cope with her gamine haircut and convincing French accent channels just enough of Leslie Caron to satisfy, but makes Lise her very own. (Perhaps if she ever decides to take a hiatus from the show, she could fill in for Vanessa Hudgens as “Gigi.”)

Uranowitz has a marvelously sardonic quality, and he’s funny without imitating the movie’s Oscar Levant. Von Essen makes Henri, who could so easily be played as a stereotype, into a real and touching figure, and yes, he does get to do Guetary’s indelible “Stairway to Paradise” number, albeit without a staircase. Jill Paice is made up to resemble MGM’s Nina Foch but, like von Essen, makes much more of her character than simply your standard “other woman” role.

By now you’ve guessed that I think the show is pretty swell. Don't miss it.

(Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway; www.Ticketmaster.com or 877-250-2929)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gigi (Neil Simon Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

With “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens the unlikely-on-paper lead, and advance word that Colette’s story about a young girl being trained as a courtesan had been thoroughly sanitized, I feared the latest stage version of Lerner and Loewe’s 1958 multiple Oscar winner would be bowdlerized beyond recognition. And yet, though flawed in a great many respects and with alterations duly acknowledged, the show has much to commend.

It is true that you don’t, for most of the first act, have much inkling that young Gigi is being trained by her grandmother Mamita (Victoria Clark) and Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty) in anything beyond grooming and good manners in fin de si├Ęcle Paris. Gigi seems to be enjoying a relatively wholesome upbringing, with occasional chaste and playful visits from notorious playboy Gaston (Corey Cott), a longtime friend of Mamita, who treats her simply as a fun kid sister.

But once Gigi matures, and Gaston’s interest in her becomes more than fraternal, the pragmatic Aunt Alicia springs into action and insists that a contract be drawn up for Gigi’s material comforts as a kept woman, and for her financial future when inevitably Gaston moves on to another woman. So from this point onwards, the essential story is back on track.

It is a pity that aging man-about-town Honore (the film’s Maurice Chevalier role – not a Colette creation, by the way -- here taken by Howard McGillin) has been deprived of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” in the name of ludicrous political correctness but, in truth, the song works remarkably well in the hands of Clark and Hoty. (Honestly, though, did you ever, for even a moment, mistake Chevalier’s character in the film for a pedophile? Isn’t the lyric “they grow up in the most delightful way”? But I digress. )

Honore’s other big number “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” in which he expresses gratitude for the romantic complications of youth now being behind him, is similarly diluted by becoming a duet for him and Clark, but that too works surprisingly well.

All the famous songs from the movie are here, although Gigi’s “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight” (originally written for “My Fair Lady”) is sung by Mamita, and Clark does it quite magnificently turning it into the vocal highlight of the whole show.

The additional songs penned by Lerner and Loewe for the unsuccessful 1973 Broadway version are utilized, too, though sometimes in new context. Gigi’s “In This Wide, Wide World,” for instance, becomes a duet for Gigi and Gaston near the end of the show. That stage version, incidentally, went on to have a measure of success in the German-speaking countries, but a more intimate mounting in London in 1985 (with Jean-Pierre Aumont as Honore) was no great shakes either. (I recall Alan Jay Lerner anxiously pacing up the side aisle during an early performance there.)

The current production trumps that one, but there is a palpable sense of the source material being dumbed down for modern sensibilities. Are today’s young people not supposed to know that the world described by Colette once existed?

Hudgens acquits herself well, albeit in a strictly All-American way, and I warmed to her in the latter part of the show where her studied perkiness mellows into a more interesting maturity. It’s good to see McGillin in anything, and he’s an ingratiating presence, but also not in the least Continental. Nor is Corey Cott’s Gaston, the most egregious and damaging bit of casting. Gaston must be older than Gigi, or the references to his string of love affairs, sound pretty silly. He needs to be mature, suave and debonair. And for all Mr. Cott’s youthful likeability, those qualities elude him. And though he tries hard, his delivery of the title song falls flat where it should soar. (Listen to Daniel Massey’s version from 73, or Louis Jourdan on the soundtrack, of course, to hear how it should sound.)

By far, the standouts in the show are Victoria Clark, wonderfully warm and real as Mamita, and Dee Hoty, starchy and imperious as Aunt Alicia. There’s real poignancy in the latter scenes of Gigi, Gaston, and Mamita, proving that adapter Heidi Thomas has done her adaptation chores with some sensitivity. And director Eric Schaeffer handles those intimate scenes well.

Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is often overly busy and frenetic. And Kai Harada’s sound design is tinny and shrill, putting the show on more on the knock-em-dead level of “Aladdin.” Perhaps that was the intent. Similarly, August Eriksmoen’s orchestrations sound like a poor cousin of Irwin Kostel’s for the 73 version. And apart from the aforementioned “Say a Prayer,” none of the songs are paced to linger in sentimentality.

Derek McLane’s sets – an Eifel Tower/Maxim’s amalgam -- are a colorful Art Nouveau eyeful, if a little on provincial side. Catherine Zuber‘s costumes also please the eye.

The show is still enjoyable, flaws and all, and it’s wonderful to have Lerner and Loewe back on the boards in the same season that gave us the exhilarating “Paint Your Wagon” revival at Encores. But it should have been so much better.

(Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd Street; Ticketmaster.com or 877-250-2929)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wolf Hall (The Royal Shakespeare Company)

By Harry Forbes

The serendipitous airing on PBS’s “Masterpiece” series of the BBC TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning books (“Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”) just as the RSC’s heralded two-part production has arrived on Broadway may have prospective theatergoers wondering if they need shell out big bucks for something they get on the tube for free?

The answer isn’t as straight-forward as it might seem. Both versions are eminently worthy, but despite their common source, far from identical.

This is, of course, the oft-told tale of Henry VIII and his ill-fated marriage to Anne Boleyn who never bore Henry the male heir he so desired, never realizing that the child he did sire with Boleyn would become one of Britain’s greatest monarch’s, Elizabeth I.

What makes Mantel’s telling unique is her focus on the king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, with the story told through his perspective. In this revisionist version, Cromwell, often portrayed as a cold-hearted schemer, emerges as the hero, his most questionable actions prompted by loyalty and necessity. And many of his adversaries, even Sir Thomas More, emerge here as considerably less than virtuous. (This is a far cry from Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons.”) Boleyn herself is bossy and shrewish. Henry VIII is mercurial, but rather more likable than normally portrayed.

The narrative charts how Cromwell helped his monarch rid himself of both first wife Catherine of Aragon and Boleyn, and helped dismantle the Catholic monasteries, many rife with corruption.

TV adapter Peter Straughan and RSC writer Mike Poulton have chosen different paths. Thus, a family tragedy for Cromwell, quite significant in the TV version, is an off-stage occurrence here. The demise of Anne Boleyn is perforce handled very differently given the limitations of the stage. But there are many other points of difference, large and small. And not all characters appear in both versions.

The TV series is notable for many indoor scenes lit by candlelight, but the stage production seems to aim for a similar ambience. Christopher Oram’s costumes are sumptuous though the stage design is rather plain and, for the most part, darkly lit (by Paule Constable for Part 1, and David Plater for Part 2.) This suits the grave events portrayed, but sometimes makes identifying all the characters a little tricky. The series, with its reliance on close-ups, and generally more focused approach, is easier to follow.

But make no mistake: Poulton has done a masterful job, and his choices are perfectly valid. Straughan builds Cromwell’s motivations around a cruel pantomime performed by members of the court after the death of his former employer, Cardinal Wolsey, and the recollection of that mockery braces Cromwell for the dirty deeds he must perform for king and country. Poulton has instead created periodic exchanges between Cromwell and Wolsey’s ghost which reinforce Cromwell’s continuing affection for his late mentor.

The cast is top-drawer. Mark Rylance is on screen almost every moment of the TV series, and his face speaks volumes. Without the benefit of close-ups, the also excellent Ben Miles – last seen here in very funny revival of “The Norman Conquests” – must project his motivations through more outgoing means. TV’s Damian Lewis is a slimmer king than Nathaniel Parker presents here, but unless I’m mistaken, I think Henry has more dialogue in this version. Lydia Leonard’s Anne Boleyn is, like TV’s Claire Foy, a formidable lady, one not to be crossed, but also like Foy, most piteous in the end. Paul Jesson’s Cardinal Wolsey portrays a different sort of affable vulgarity than Jonathan Pryce in the mini-series. And so it goes.

Each act breaks at an appropriate cliff-hanger in the narrative, and as crisply directed by Jeremy Herrin, the plays rarely drag.

Perhaps not quite in the same glorious league as the RSC’s legendary two-part “The Life and Adventures of Nicolas Nickleby” (imported to Broadway twice), “Wolf Hall” is still an ever-fascinating yarn, told with superb stagecraft, and topflight British acting.

Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway, between 50th and 51stStreets)

Photo: Johan Persson (Ben Miles and Lydia Leonard – West End, Aldwych)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Skylight (Golden Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

I wish I could remember all the nuances of my first exposure to David Hare’s play, which I caught in Richard Eyre’s National Theatre premiere production back in 1995 so I might make a more detailed comparison. But all these years later, I can certainly attest that Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan are offering very much their own interpretations of the roles created so finely by Michael Gambon and Lia Williams.

And Bob Crowley’s marvelous set – a cluttered, ramshackle council flat against a vista of other apartments – is, as well, a unique creation, quite different than John Gunter’s original design.

Mulligan’s Kyra is a schoolteacher who once the lover of the married Tom (Nighy), an affluent restaurateur. Kyra and Tom’s wife Alice were friends and co-workers (Kyra worked in one of Tom’s restaurant), and they had all lived under the same roof, until Alice discovered the affair. Now Alice has died of cancer, and Tom has come round to Kyra’s shabby flat to reconnect with her. And as the play proceeds, indeed they do, but the disparity of their lifestyles and societal attitudes continues to be a barrier between them, despite their enduring affection.

The play is said to reflect the dichotomy of post-Thatcher era England, pitting a character committed to wealth against one who believes that helping one individual will make a difference. That theme is very much apparent, but all that is subtext to a very personal story.

Despite the quality of Hare’s writing, I recall thinking that the play was occasionally talky and could benefit from a trim. Time has not altered that opinion, despite Nighy and Mulligan’s extremely engaging performances. She creates a very empathetic character, and handles the considerable on-stage cooking aspects of her role (Spaghetti Bolognese) with aplomb. (Prepare to breathe in the flavorsome meal throughout the first act, by the way.) And Nighy is full of nervous tics and mannerisms as the less lovable Tom. Despite Tom’s unlikable traits, Nighy does generate the requisite sympathy. Still, I couldn’t help remembering some of Nighy’s very early work at the National Theatre where those same mannerisms seemed to me horribly affected, while over time, they’ve been toned down and are now a seamless part of his persona.

Though, strictly speaking, Nighy is now older than he should be for his 50-year-old character (he originally played the role in 1997), it hardly matters, as the pair do skillfully convey the passionate if volatile chemistry still between them.

For the most part, “Skylight” plays as a two-hander, but there is excellent work from Matthew Beard as Tom’s estranged son, who appears in the first and last scenes, the latter most touchingly written and played.

Count this as another feather in the cap of director Stephen Daldry, following as it does so closely on the heels of his excellent work on “The Audience.”

(John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street; Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200)