“Tovarich?” you ask. “Who’s ‘Tovarich’?” Or perhaps, “What is ‘Tovarich’?” In Russian it means “Comrade,” but on stage it translates into lots of laughs. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, in full swing, next presents Robert E. Sherwood’s adaptation of this 1933 romantic comedy written by French playwright Jacques Deval. Its clever plot and lengthy absence from stages anywhere make it big news in New Jersey.
The play—a huge success when it first saw the footlights—was widely performed in Europe and America. It readily became a hit film in 1937 directed by Anatole Litvak, starring Claudette Colbert, Charles Boyer and Basil Rathbone. Then it practically disappeared with the start of World War II, supposedly for its Russian-ness.
New York’s City Center eventually revived “Tovarich” in 1952 and in 1963, it became a Broadway musical starring Vivien Leigh, no less, who took home the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (book by David Shaw, music by Lee Pockriss and lyrics by Anne Croswell). So many permutations of one work means it’s got to be good.
The Shakespeare Theatre will perform the original play with a cast starring Jon Barker as Prince Mikail Alexandrovitch Ouratieff and Carly Street as his wife, the Grand Duchess Tatiana Petrovna. Anthony Cochrane plays their archenemy, Commissar Gorotchenko. The setting is Paris, where the prince and grand duchess barely get by one step ahead of the law by shoplifting, having fled their homeland. Turning honest, they become servants in the wealthy Dupont household. But that’s just the beginning of numerous complications and madcap escapades.
Hm, royalty slumming as plain old regular folks … Now how often does that opportunity present itself?
Catch “Tovarich” while you can at Madison’s F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre August 7-25. Tickets: $35 to $70; student rush tickets: $15. Box office: (973) 408-5600 or ShakespeareNJ.org.
Correction: An earlier edition of this article stated that the role of the protagonists’ archenemy belonged to a character named Count Feodor Brekenski, who is indeed played by John Greenbaum.
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