This cable adaptation is a huge improvement over Neil Simon's original play for two reasons. The original was one of Simon's laugh a minute (and you can set your watch by it) plays with a big problem: it was written as an ensemble piece but one character-television comic Max Prince, who's based on stories about Sid Caesar-was so overpowering it threw the ensemble off. For this version, Simon, who got his start writing for Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" and "The Caesar Show," wisely puts more focus on Prince, adding scenes to flesh out the character and incorporate even more of the legends. With Nathan Lane in the role, he can't miss.
This is a very different performance for Lane, one of the industry's most capable farceurs. His Max Prince is as over-the-top as Lane often is, but he also invests the character with a strong serious side (like most great comics, Prince takes himself with an almost desperate seriousness) that gives the role heart. In between temper tantrums and one-liners belted out for all the world to hear, Simon and Lane have crafted some wonderfully subtle moments. He's strongly supported by the actors playing his writing staff-particularly Dan Castellenata and Saul Rubinek. And Richard Benjamin, who directed another Sid Caesar pastiche in "My Favorite Year," keeps the whole thing moving efficiently. I'm going to look for a rerun on Showtime so I can catch this again and can't wait for it to come out on video.
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