Feeding off the corrupted, gritty, tacky, sweaty reality of the press, “The Front Page” remains a timeless classic of American theater. Anything but simple and sweet, “The Front Page” takes audiences back to a 1920s Chicago press room, where journalists are covering a jailbreak, an execution, a political scandal and a shooting. All stories intertwine and connect, and amazingly enough, all take place within the pressroom, down the hall, or outside the window.
Originally written in 1928 by comics Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, Ann Arbor Civic Theater Director Glenn Bugala exemplifies the original fast-paced ideal of the show. When the film “His Girl Friday,” which is based on “The Front Page,” came out, it was known for some of the most fast-paced scenes ever designed for film. Bugala structures this production in a similar manner with actors speaking extremely quickly and overlapping one another”s lines. With the extremely fast-paced discourse, one might have thought they were at an auction. Likewise, the actors running and jumping around the pressroom resemble a whirlwind. After adjusting to the fast tempo, however, one gets caught up into the world of the pressroom, and even finds that the extreme pacing brings out tension, humor and overall craziness of the play.
Earl Williams, Bolshevik and accused murderer of a cop, is the man on everyone”s mind, as he is awaiting his execution outside the window of the pressroom. The exclamations of his escape on the eve of conviction makes each journalist jump up and run from their guitar or their poker game out onto the streets, as they are all competing for the latest news. After retrieving different sides of the stories, each journalist is off racing once again to the pressroom phones to relay their latest news.
The lazy pressroom scene makes a complete transition to hysteria at the slightest announcement of a news-grabbing event.
Within, yet straying from the cynical race for the latest, star reporter Hildy Johnson begins the play with the announcement of his retirement of the press and his new job at his fiance”s uncle”s business in New York. Delaying his departure to meet Peggy, his fiance, at the train station at least five times, Peggy and her mother add to the hysteria of the newsroom by showing up in search for Hildy. It was obvious from the get-go that the pressroom would not be the same without Hildy”s old-fashioned attitude and wisecracks. His love and desire to get the best front page story possible takes him to incredible lengths, like hiding Earl Williams in a pressroom desk, and keeping such news from his fellow newsmen.
The action of “The Front Page,” echoed with gunshots, shouting and the fast-paced movement, is also displayed in the characters themselves. Sheriff Hartman comes off as a cartoon character, with his buggy eyes, big glasses, and wide mouth thus, his interior character of a complete idiot is depicted in his outside appearance. In fact, everything in this world seems to be corrupt, symbolized by the handcuffing of chief editor, Walter Burns, and the star reporter, Hildy. Overcoming this rotten unjust world is the age-old remedy of laughter, as a running theme in the play is that humor is everywhere.
Befitting the “City of the Big Shoulders” by Carl Sandburg, voices from “The Front Page” could possibly be heard saying, “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning. Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities.”