He only wanted to get married but he was wed to The Front Page
An irresistible comedy with thrills and derring-do set in the news room. Hildy wants to break away from journalism and go on a belated honeymoon. There is a jailbreak and into Hildy’s hands falls the escapee as hostage. He conceals his prize in a rolltop desk and phones his scoop to his managing editor. Their job is to prevent other reporters and the sheriff from opening the desk and finding their story. Some hoodlums are enlisted to remove the desk, but they get mixed up with a Boy Scout troop and the mayor and a cleaning woman, among others. It’s a whirlwind wrap up with Hildy finally making his breakaway.
The Front Page has been a hit on the American stage since it originally premiered on Broadway in 1928. Since then it has seen four successful revivals, most recently in 2016 starring Nathan Lane, John Goodman and John Slattery. This raucous celebration of the glory days of tabloid American journalism has also been adapted several times for the big screen and for television, most notably in the Howard Hawks 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
The show opens in the press room of the Chicago Criminal Courts Building where a group of rough-edged reporters for the Chicago’s papers are killing time playing poker, drinking, and phoning in occasional stories. They’re waiting to cover the execution of the Earl Williams (Kyle Quinlivan) who is scheduled to hang the next morning for shooting a policeman. But for these hard-nosed tabloid professionals, this story is less troubling than it is inconvenient. One even bemoans that the sheriff refused his request to move the execution up by two hours so they could get the story into their morning editions – and also get some much-needed sleep.
Into this den of ink-stained cynics walks Hildy Johnson (J. Michael Wright), a brash young star reporter who surprises his peers with the announcement that he’s saying farewell to chasing news stories. He has just become engaged to a sweet young debutante, Peggy Grant (Elena Tubridy) and they’re on their way to New York where he’s found a job in the more “normal” business of advertising. (The fact that his fiancée’s uncle owns the ad agency didn’t hurt his prospects.) While his fiancé and her fussy mother (Suzy Krueckeberg) wait outside in a taxi to head off for the wedding, Hildy makes his disgust with the world of tabloid journalism clear.
“Journalists!” he says, “Peeking through keyholes! Running after fire engines like a lot of coach dogs! A lot of lousy, daffy, buttinskis…!” He’s through with all this, he tells his old friends. He’s building a new, life for himself in a cushy suburban paradise far away from the dog-eat-dog world of shoeleather journalism.
But this is slapstick comedy, and fate soon intervenes with zany hilarity. Hildy’s world is turned upside down when the condemned man suddenly escapes from his jail cell. As the other reporters rush out to chase this breaking story, he stays behind – just as the fleeing prisoner literally drops into the press room and drops the scoop of a lifetime right into Hildy’s lap.
It seems that there’s more to William’s murder conviction than meets the eye. Hildy learns that he has been convicted and sentenced to hang less for his crime than to boost the re-election campaigns of the city’s mayor and sheriff. The scent of political corruption is in the air, and the chance to expose it is a story too good for Hildy to ignore. Now his desire to break away from the world of shoeleather journalism bumps up against his reporter’s addiction to the adrenaline rush of chasing a hot story. (All on a tight deadline, of course.)
As The Front Page steams forward, a battle of wits and wills quickens the pace with deliciously action-packed tomfoolery. Slamming doors, overlapping telephone conversations and a large roll-top desk all thicken the plot deliciously in the best traditions of American farce and screwball comedy.
The Front Page provides today’s audiences with a nostalgic depiction of a time when American city newspapers prospered, and when the reporters and editors who created them were eccentric, driven, and willing to do almost anything to get a good story.
The many revivals and film adaptations of this Hecht and MacArthur comedy are clear evidence of the enduring popularity of this classic. But just how much of a “classic” is The Front Page? According to an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2010, the noted American playwright David Mamet ranks The Front Page among the greatest American plays of the twentieth century, including Our Town, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. High praise from someone who knows quite a lot about American theater!
Oil Lamp Theater is proud to present this comedy that captures not only the gritty spirit of journalism in the early 20th century, but also some essential truths about the important role that journalists play in a free society. As audiences enjoy this love letter the tabloid press of a bygone era, they will also experience a celebration of the enduring significance of the American “fourth estate” – something that’s every bit as relevant as today’s latest headlines.
The Front Page premiered on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre in August, 1928. The first revival, in 1946, was directed by Charles MacArthur and ran for 79 performances. The 1969-70 revival, starring Robert Ryan and Bert Convey, was very successful, running for over 220 performances. A 1986 revival starred John Lithgow and Richard Thomas. The most recent Broadway production was mounted in 2016 starring Nathan Lane, John Goodman and John Slattery. That production was nominated for two Tony awards.
Director – Keith Gerth
Assistant Director – Whitney Minarik
Stage Manager – Savannah Clements
J. Michael Wright
Daniel J. Lew