Broadway audiences have changed mightily since 1937, when FDR was in the White House, Hitler was setting his sights on the rest of Europe and Clifford Odets's GOLDEN BOY opened to critical acclaim. The one constant has been the way the classic play continues to resonate with audiences.
Why has GOLDEN BOY caught the imagination of today's audiences? So many of the play's themes are as topical today as they were when the drama was written 75 years ago, said Danny Mastrogiorgio, a member of the large and talented cast of the widely praised current production of GOLDEN BOY. "I think audiences relate because Odets writes about people who have dreams - who want to better their personal situation - and what success means in this country," said Mastrogiorgio, who plays fight manager Tom Moody. "It's a common goal and it is always relevant."
The play follows the up-and-coming boxer Joe Bonaparte, played by Seth Numrich. Joe is not just a ferocious fighter, but also a talented violinist. His soft-spoken immigrant father, played by Tony Shalhoub, hopes his son chooses a musician's life over a pugilist's. The boxer/violinist is racked by inner conflict.
Mastrogiorgio finds each day inspiring as a member of a sprawling ensemble of 19 actors giving life anew to a powerful story. "Odets's words are still important today, and the entire cast is motivated to make each performance special," he said during a post-rehearsal, pre-performance food run for rigatoni and meatballs.
"The cast may be large but the actors all portray memorable characters because the writing is so powerful," said Mastrogiorgio. Performing in such a stellar ensemble (including Danny Burstein, Jonathan Hadary and Yvonne Strahovski) might be intimidating, but not so in this one, he said. "Everyone has been so supportive and respectful," Mastrogiorgio said. "It's been an incredible experience."
He had read the play years before the audition came up, so he needed a refresher class. "I hadn't read it in awhile but I had worked on it in school and I immediately loved the character," he said. Moody's relationship with Joe is complicated by their love of the same girl - Lorna Moon, played by Strahovski. "I just kind of 'got' the character and understood the problems he had been dealing with economically and emotionally," he added.
"Despite the hardships lived through by this character, he still manifested hope that things would improve," Mastrogiorgio said. "Despite all the things that happen during the play, he never stops being in the fight game. He's got a kind of hopefulness in him I think the audience can relate to.
"You get that there's a lot going on with Lorna, being engaged to her, and managing Joe and trying to keep everyone happy," he said. "I share his spirit, because no matter what we go through in life, it never comes easy."
The characters' names are evocative of their roles on stage, he said, offering his own - Moody - as an example. "It's not exactly subtle with a name like Moody," he said with a laugh. "I'd describe him as being very upfront with his emotional state, especially when he deals with his fiancée's growing relationship with Joe."
GOLDEN BOY covers a lot of emotional territory, with Joe's father at the center of the maelstrom. He simply wants the best for his son, a motivation that seldom goes unpunished in classic drama.
"The play is about how the characters strive-to become successful, to fall in love," Mastrogiorgio said. "Every person in the play strives for fame, success, happiness. They all want something more in life, especially Joe's father [Shalhoub], who I think has created a brilliantly understated character. I think he's got a kind of dogged optimism in spite of how bad things look. He has a real capacity to love and fight for what he thinks is right, and to even be funny. In fact, there are elements of humor that come out throughout the play," Mastrogiorgio said.
"I think my character always has hope and faith that Lorna will be true, until the last scene" he said. "But he's a desperate guy and is ready to take a gamble with Joe, with Lorna and others who he thinks will help him rise to the top. I think he's very practical - he sees the big picture as being part of a sports team."