Energetic, gritty and crowd-pleasing, Lucky Guy is that rare, welcome thing: a Broadway hit that’s not a musical. It is also fairly facile and, late in its two-hour running time, big-speech-sentimental in a way that will secure the show’s star, Tom Hanks, who is making his Broadway debut, all the end-of-season prizes. A Tony for the play itself, however, would be as much a tribute to the author, Nora Ephron, who died last June, as a testament to the lasting quality of her text.
The world of Lucky Guy feels a little removed from the rarefied precincts of Ephron’s socially connected adulthood. The fact-based tale whisks us back to the clattering newsrooms of Ephron’s 1960s career as a reporter for the New York Post, though by the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the play takes place, the city’s tabloids are no longer its lifeblood. Gotham is being gentrified and bourbon-belting characters are being shoved aside by wine-swilling yuppies.
George C. Wolfe’s whizz-bang production opens with a group of Irish-American newspapermen huddled around a bar. They soon burst into song. The actors, a first-rate ensemble of New York types, address the audience, a device that tickles the patrons but too often prevents Ephron from developing very deeply the scenes between her principals. Such superficiality earned her success as the writer/director of such rom-coms as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, but here it tends to hamper the building of complex emotion.
Hanks starred in those two rom-coms, and it is to his credit that in Lucky Guy he finds edgier feelings. He’s tremendously game. He portrays Mike McAlary, the reporter whose hard-hitting stories on the New York Police Department netted him a Pulitzer Prize.
Zigzagging between New York Newsday, the New York Daily News and the New York Post, McAlary has a knack for getting his subjects to open up. The scattershot plot takes him through a series of professional near-scandals, and on to the redemption brought on by a car accident and, especially, by the cancer that killed him in 1998, at the age of 41.
Steeped in the fast-talking newspaper comedies of Hollywood’s golden age, Ephron surrounds McAlary with a rogues’ gallery of envious, class-conscious colleagues. Among them, I have space only to salute Danny Mastrogiorgio as a swaggering reporter, and Courtney B. Vance and Peter Gerety as McAlary’s hard-boiled editors.