May 1, 2014

Modetso’s Prospect reads “The Front Page”

Prospect Theater Project brings the 1920s newspaper comedy “The Front Page” to the stage with a big cast, set and laughs.

Extra, extra – play all about it.

Prospect Theater Project brings the newspaper comedy “The Front Page” to the stage tonight. The play about a star reporter and her demanding editor at a Chicago tabloid has been adapted for stage and screen several times since it premiered in 1928.

“It’s just a classic American farce,” said Prospect Artistic Director Jack Souza, who is also directing the production. “It’s fast, it’s really furious and very funny.”

The Prospect production will keep the show in the 1920s but swap one of the lead characters’ gender. Modesto actress Megan Cardenas plays the paper’s star cops reporter, Hildy Johnson. In the original, Hildy was short for Hildebrand and written for a male actor. Merced actor David Hambley plays her hard-driving boss, Walter Burns.

Cardenas said the gender flip does little to change the character of Hildy, the best reporter at the Chicago paper, who is on the verge of leaving to get married.

“They all look at Hildy as one of the guys and treat her as one of the guys. It’s an interesting statement to have the woman be the top dog,” Cardenas said. “She is confident; she knows she is the best. News is her life. So then, of course, the biggest story of the year breaks and the wedding gets put on hold.”

Still, the flip to make Hildy a woman isn’t really new. The 1940 film adaptation, “His Girl Friday,” with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, did the same thing, as did the 1988 comedy “Switching Channels,” with Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner.

Cardenas and Hambley are part of a robust cast of 24 in the play, which includes Karen Olson, Michael Hewitt, David Braga, Bev Barney, Bryan Hurd and Tom Solomon. The ensemble is one of the largest in Prospect history, made possible by its move earlier this year to a downtown Modesto space on K Street with more elbow room.

“At Scenic, I really couldn’t seriously think about having 20-plus actors around. The new facility facilitated it, and I was emboldened by some of the shows we were doing at Gallo to go bigger,” Souza said.

“We had the actors and the space to try it now.”

The new space also allows for a more elaborate sets – particularly the press room with its high walls and wainscoting.

“It has allowed me to build in a kind of scale I’d never been able to do at Prospect,” Souza said. “If I had put this set in Scenic Drive, no room for audience.”

Hambley said bringing to life a comedy from a different era was a treat for the actors.

“It has a whole different pace to it. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and hanging on until the end,” he said of the rapid-fire comedy. His role has been played on film by screen legends including Grant and Walter Matthau.

Hambley and Cardenas said the story is a nice change of pace for the theater company, which has tended toward more dramatic fare over its 13-year history.

“This particular show is bigger than life, so in that way, it is a little more like a musical,” Cardenas said. “Jack told us this is off the beaten path from the subtle realism Prospect is known for.”

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