BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
“Private Lives” is one of the greatest comedies ever.
Noel Coward’s 1930 tale of two souls who love each other madly but drive each other crazy looks slight but actually it runs very deep emotionally. Or rather, the play has the potential to resonate with the unspoken heartbreak that glimmers beneath Amanda and Elyot’s glib cocktails-and-laughter banter.
Unfortunately, the revival of “Private Lives” that opened Thursday at the Music Box Theatre is played entirely and broadly on the surface. So the comedy registers as flatly as a cheap bottle of champagne.
As Amanda, Kim Cattrall makes her initial entrance clad in a bath towel -- no doubt to capitalize on her naughty “Sex and the City” image – and that’s about as revelatory as her performance ever gets. Aiming to be gamin a-la Carole Lombard, Cattrall is vocally shrill and rather coarse in manner. Paul Gross, so funny in the “Slings and Arrows” series, is disappointingly bland as Elyot. They soon become tiresome.
As the new spouses who Amanda and Elyot soon ditch to run off to Paris together, Simon Paisley Day rigidly portrays Victor as a stuffed shirt while Anna Madeley’s chirruping Sibyl is negligible.
Richard Eyre, the director, paces the play at a very quick clip on two ugly settings designed by Bob Howell. Somehow the greenish circular circumstances of Amanda’s apartment in Paris suggest the interior of an Art Deco teakettle. An unnecessary sight gag involving an aquarium that springs a leak during the couple’s second-act brawl simply confirms how little faith Eyre has in Coward’s classic.
“Private Lives” continues through Feb. 5 at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.privatelivesbroadway.com.