Among all the encomiums that accompanied Gore Vidal’s death, another can now be added: “Good career move.” In the wake of the celebrated writer’s passing on July 31, there has been an uptick in the box office of the Broadway revival of “The Best Man.” If that mischievous phrase sounds familiar, it is because Vidal himself famously used it when informed of the death of his longtime rival Truman Capote in 1984. At the time, it cut close to the bone as Capote, the once-gifted enfant terrible of literature, had been reduced by alcoholism and pills to a ghost of his former self. Not so with Vidal who remained quite vital and engaged in his legacy until the end.
The spike in ticket sales must also be attributed to the positive reviews, which have greeted the arrival of four new cast members: Elizabeth Ashley, Kristin Davis, John Stamos, and Cybill Shepherd. “Each newcomer adds vigor and appealing spin to the revival,” wrote Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News. Indeed, it’s a much sexier production now. The late playwright Lanford Wilson once observed, “I go to the theater to see beautiful people, preferably undressed.” No doubt he would have been pleased to see Davis of “Sex and the City” fame in a teddy showing off a killer body and sexually teasing Stamos, himself in great shape under his snug Mad Men suit. They’re a knock-out together even if they slightly strain credulity as a power-mad couple bent on winning the White House. (What’s that old phrase? “Politics is show business for ugly people”?) Shepherd, who the years have treated kindly since her “Moonlighting” days, is convincing — and vulnerable — as the matronly spouse of a philandering presidential candidate, ably played by John Larroquette. And Ashley, as a no-nonsense Democratic committee woman, still has the fire and spunk that made her a Broadway siren and cover girl in the early ‘60s. At a recent performance, whistles and applause greeted the entrance of each new cast member. Yet the standing ovation at the end came for James Earl Jones, whose Tony-nominated performance as a blustery former President, continues to be reason to see this stellar revival. The limited engagement continues through September 9th at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.