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For its seventy-fifth anniversary, Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy has returned home, in a triumphant Lincoln Center production at the Belasco Theatre, where the show made its Broadway debut in November 1937. Seth Numrich (War Horse) comes on like a house on fire as Joe Bonaparte, a young classical violinist determined to make it in the fight game. He implores boxing promoter Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio) to put him in the ring against Chocolate Drop, sure that he has what it takes to become a champion. But in that first match, Joe is fearful of hurting his valuable hands, something that his trainer, Tokio (Boardwalk Empire’s Danny Burstein), has to cure him of if he is to become successful in the sweet science. The married Moody also involves his girlfriend, Lorna Moon (Dexter’s Yvonne Strahovski), a self-proclaimed floozy from Newark, in his plan to nurture Joe, but that strategy threatens to backfire when Joe and Lorna take a liking to each other. Meanwhile, Joe’s Italian immigrant father (Monk’s Tony Shalhoub) worries whether his son will ever play the violin again or make enough money as a fighter to support himself.
Directed by Bartlett Sher, who also helmed Lincoln Center’s 2006 revival of Odets’s Awake and Sing!, Golden Boy still packs quite a wallop, performed by a talented ensemble, with creative period sets by Michael Yeargan (highlighted by vertical doors that come down from the ceiling). It tells the timeless story of the never-ending battle between artistic and financial success, as Joe understands he must give up the violin for good if he is to pursue a career in boxing. Odets was inspired to write Golden Boy after he headed to Hollywood and the company that he was part of, Lee Strasberg’s Group Theatre, disbanded, representing his own struggle between artistic integrity and wealth and fame. The original production of Golden Boy was directed by Harold Clurman and featured the legendary cast of Luther Adler (as Joe), Frances Farmer (as Lorna), Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, Howard Da Silva, Karl Malden, and John Garfield. (Garfield, who played a troubled violinist in the 1946 film Humoresque, took on the role of Joe in a short-lived 1952 Broadway revival, while William Holden made his film debut in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1939 film.) The current cast also includes Ned Eisenberg as Roxy Gottlieb, Anthony Crivello as Eddie Fuseli, Jonathan Hadary as Mr. Carp, Michael Aronov as Joe’s brother-in-law, Siggie, and Dagmara Dominczyk as Joe’s sister, Anna. Golden Boy is like an old boxer getting back into the ring after a lengthy retirement but still showing there’s plenty of fight left in his game, ready to go twelve rounds with the best of them.