BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
A glowing production of “Golden Boy” opened on Thursday at the lovely Belasco Theatre, where Clifford Odets’ drama originally premiered in 1937.
The Depression-era saga of a young violinist who forsakes his music to win easier money as a prizefighter, “Golden Boy” sees the hero neglect his Italian-American family and hook up with the wrong crowd.
But most of you know the familiar story. What distinguishes the drama – which still packs a wallop -- is the rich quality of Odets’ urban language of the ‘30s and the colorful nature of his New York characters.
Bartlett Sher, the director of Lincoln Center Theater’s vivid revival, assembles a marvelous group of 19 actors to bring these people to life. Dressed almost too well by Catherine Zuber, they vibrantly perform the play within settings by Michael Yeargan and moody lighting by Donald Holder that makes every scene beautifully glimmer like a Reginald Marsh painting of 1930s New York.
The production’s exceptional looks are matched by performances that swiftly drive the three-act play like the Deusenberg roadster that Joe Bonaparte buys with his first winnings. Under Sher’s direction, the actors fearlessly give vent to the heightened language and burning emotions by which Odets transformed a Manhattan melodrama into an American tragedy.
Looking just like a golden boy, Seth Numrich urgently conveys Joe’s changing personality as he fights for the success that eventually sours him on life.
As Lorna Moon, a hard-faced but soft-hearted dame torn between Joe and Tom Moody, his manager, Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski really sounds as if she hails directly from Newark. Strahovski brings a deep sense of sadness to Lorna that softens the character’s brittle personality.
Danny Mastrogiorgio provides a vital presence as a Tom Moody who easily stands up to the dangerous overtures of the gangster, Eddie Fuseli, who is practically operatic in Anthony Crivello’s sinister portrayal. A touching Tony Shalhoub gives Joe’s fruit peddler of a father a ripe Italian accent and a gently melancholy disposition. Quietly exuding empathy as Joe’s trainer, Danny Burstein shares an intimate scene with the fighter that proves his understanding of Joe’s nature.