Room Service Review – A Farce with a History

Jackie Shearn and Will Maizel in ROOM SERVICE - Photo by Doug Engalla
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Penned by John Murray and Allen Boretz, ROOM SERVICE premiered in New York City in 1937, with a later revival in 1953 starring Jack Lemmon. RKO Pictures purchased the film rights for the zany play in 1938 for a then-record $225,000 and used the script as the basis for a Marx Brothers film of the same name which also starred Lucille Ball and Ann Miller. In 1944, RKO adapted ROOM SERVICE into a musical called “Step Lively” starring Frank Sinatra. ROOM SERVICE still has some mileage left and comes to the Group Rep in 2023 for modern audiences.

Andrew Grigorian, Sandra Hellesto Fancher, Ray Bobillo, Melissa Strauss, Wesley Simpkin, Tilly Ye, and Cynthia Payo – Photo by Doug Engalla

The time is 1937 and the place is Gordon Miller’s room in the White Way Hotel in New York City. Miller (Will Maizel) is a perpetually penniless theatrical producer and gifted con man who has smuggled his cast of 21 into a hotel managed by Joseph Gribble (Tommy Jacobs), his brother-in-law. Together with buddies Harry Binion (Sam Logan) and Faker Englund (Matthew McLaughlin), Miller is frantically – and probably hopelessly – searching for a rich backer who will bring the show to the stage (and pay all the bills). When actress girlfriend Christine Marlowe (Jackie Shearn) thinks that she has found the perfect patsy, things begin to look good – just as the play’s small-town author Leo Davis (Timothy Willard) breezes in from Nowhere, NY, to join the merry crowd. But things start to unravel when the hotel’s big boss shows up and demands that the broke Miller pay the $1,200 (close to $26,000 in today’s money) which he owes for food and lodging. In true farcical fashion, everything speeds up as disaster swoops in.

Jessica Kent and Timothy Willard – Photo by Doug Engalla

ROOM SERVICE is a fascinating peek at changing entertainment tastes over nearly 100 years – from the good ol’ days when the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges were in their heyday to today’s far less flashy and more subtle comedies du jour. Director Mareli Mitchel-Shields does her best to bring this frenetic comedy to life in 2023, as do the principals taking on this piece of history. But it’s all in good fun, and the audience will certainly be entertained. This is light, mindless fun and reminds us that humor has always been part and parcel of theater. Kudos to Chris Winfield’s set, which is just about perfect for the period. Aylah Robinson’s costumes add that bit of spice, along with Frank McKown’s lighting and Paul Cady’s musical direction.

Sam Logan, Matthew McLaughlin, Sal Valletta, and Will Maizel – Photo by Doug Engalla

ROOM SERVICE is recommended for theater and film history buffs, and it will also prove diverting for comedy lovers. To quote Gregory A Wilson from A Curtain Up Review, “Like most farces, the play relies on snappy dialogue, slapstick comedy, and a wickedly fast pace…looks crazy and manic…but this apparent chaos masks a tightly written play… absolutely as good as it gets.”

Tommy Jacobs and Joe Eastburn – Photo by Doug Engalla

ROOM SERVICE runs through October 15, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $35 (students and seniors $30; parties of 10+ $25). For information and reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online.


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