"It's Only a Play," a tissue-paper-thin backstage comedy by Terrence McNally that pokes fun at theater industry personalities and traditions, received an Off-Broadway production decades ago and then disappeared into the prolific playwright's archives, never to be heard from again.

Some savvy person had the idea to update it to the present day (half the dialogue consists of dropping the names of current celebs) and revive it on Broadway with a knockout cast including Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Megan Mullally, Stockard Channing and F. Murray Abraham. Thrown in for good measure are "Harry Potter" actor Rupert Grint and newcomer Micah Stock.

In essence, this is a commercially attractive package deal for theatergoers eager to relive their memories of Lane and Broderick in "The Producers" and indulge in what looks like a dizzying laugh fest commanded by stage pros.

Set at the opening night party of a new Broadway play, it consists of a heartfelt playwright (Broderick), his TV personality pal (Lane), a super-rich producer (Mullally), a pill-popping diva actress (Channing), a bitter critic (Abraham), an oddball British director (Grint) and abright-eyed coat check attendant (Stock), all anxiously waiting for the reviews to come out.

While act one offers plenty of silly, lightweight fun, the play essentially collapses in the self-indulgent, overly sentimental act two. At an overall length of close to three hours, one can't help but wonder why it wasn't seriously cut.

Director Jack O'Brien could have done a better job coordinating the broad performances offered by the cast into a cohesive, farcical whole.

Lane is relaxed and altogether terrific, and Mullally, Channing and Abraham have their moments. Less successful are Grint, who looks amateurish in his heavy makeup, and Broderick, who throws everyone else off with a labored performance.

 


At the Schoenfeld Theatre through Jan 4
236 W. 45th St.
itsonlyaplay.com?