“The Philadelphia Story” has nothing to do with the Liberty Bell or Benjamin Franklin. The Walnut Street Theater is currently staging this romantic comedy about the Philadelphia upper crust being upper crusty.
This Main Line melodrama illustrates the perks and perils of extreme wealth, the innate human desire to save face and the problem with perfection. It is a story based on real-life Main Line maven Hope Montgomery Scott and her lavish estate. As a disclaimer, author Phillip Barry has taken the liberty of embellishing the character of the lead role, Tracy Lord.
“The Philadelphia Story” has the witty dialogue and humorous situations of a Meg Ryan movie, but is set in the 1940s. Lord is the picture of all that is elegant. She is a Philadelphia debutant who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her family, ever conscious of their public image, keeps their dirty laundry well within the confines of their vast estate.
When Lord’s philandering father endangers their tarnish-free coat of arms, her brother devises a plan to keep the press busy; he invites them to her wedding.
As the nuptials are about to take place, things get complicated. With problems involving ex-husbands, drunken crushes and a domineering fiancé, it looks as though there will be no rings exchanged. This would seem to be quite an abysmal turn of events but, for Lord, it is a breakthrough.
As she experiences a mix of emotions, Lord’s icy exterior begins to melt and give way to a loving woman unafraid to feel love and pain. Through a whirlwind of events, a wedding does indeed take place, but you’ll have to see the show to find out who the groom is.
The Walnut Street Theater doesn’t disappoint with this delightful production. The set design is breathtaking, and transports the audience to the lap of Main Line luxury. The costumes are fitting of the 40s and a beautiful array of fabrics were used. And the cast delivers some excellent performances, comparable to the 1940 film version by the same name starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.
The lead role of Lord is executed with precision by actress Jessica Boevers. Unfortunately, she seemes to be mimicking Hepburn’s portrayal rather than putting her own stamp on the character. Steve Wilson gives a stand out performance as the charismatic ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven. The two meddling reporters, Liz Imbrie and Mike Connor, are portrayed by Alicia Roper and Blair Williams. They both exude a natural comfort on stage. Scott Greer’s performance as Lord’s fiancé George Kittredge is less memorable. He seemed ill fit for the role.
The youngest cast member is Jenna Miller, who portrays the rambunctious Dinah, little sister to Lord, who throws a monkey wrench in the plans. Miller’s performance, while acceptable for a high school play, brought down the quality of the show. This is most likely due to her lack of stage experience and was probably magnified by the caliber of the seasoned actors in the show.
This show will dazzle audiences with its wit and drama and is sure to charm any Philadelphian, no matter what their social status. “The Philadelphia Story” will be performed at the Walnut Street Theater through April 25. For ticket information and show times, call (215) 574-3550.
Milli Protheroe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org