In Richard Greenberg’s elegant Broadway adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly has morphed into Holly Godarkly. I refer not merely to the tresses of Emilia Clarke, who plays her, which have gone from the porn-star blonde of her Daenerys in Game of Thrones to a lush brunette here. The tone of Tiffany’s has also darkened: the gamine charm of Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie version has evolved into good-time-girl desperation.
If the shift is truer to the spirit of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, it also makes for a rather dispiriting evening. So quickly apparent is Holly’s phoniness – she started out as Lulamae Barnes, from Tulip, Texas, and assumed a more soigné identity by the time she reached New York – that the audience must strive mightily to develop much regard for her.
Our sympathy lies much more with the narrator Fred who, in this story of second-world-war New York, has escaped the army owing to asthma. In a line of gay or bisexual narrators chronicling the rise and fall of louche single-girl best friends in a metropolis – Sally Bowles in Cabaret is the prototype – Fred returns to Manhattan in 1957 wondering whatever happened to Holly. An escort to wealthy men, the sprite had reigned supreme during the previous decade, a time that the production’s designers evoke with vintage projections and sliding panels.
Fred joins Joe Bell, a roly-poly bartender played by George Wendt, to conjure memories of the days when Holly gave raucous parties at her flat in an Upper East Side townhouse in which struggling writer Fred occupied a garret. Cory Michael Smith makes us feel the ache of Fred’s ambition as he is forced to do almost anything to survive.
Clarke is affected but not affecting, and a Breakfast without a fetching Holly isn’t much of a meal. Her strongest moment comes when she sings a plaintive ballad (no, not “Moon River”). She is wise not to channel Hepburn, of whom one could say what Hepburn once purred to Cary Grant: “Do you know what’s wrong with you? Nothing.”
The primary purrer in this Broadway production, directed by Sean Mathias, is a long-bodied feline called Cat. Portrayed by Vito Vincent, the animal at my performance hopped out of Holly’s arms and padded world-wearily off the stage. In New York, even the cats are critics.