Valerie Harper in 'Looped' on Broadway: What did the critics think?
Reminding people she can do more than play TV's wise-cracking Rhoda, Valerie Harper is starring as the flamboyantly eccentric actress Tallulah Bankhead in "Looped," which opened Sunday at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway.
Matthew Lombardo's new play -- which began life at the Pasadena Playhouse --describes the long and difficult day in which the boozed-up Bankhead struggled to loop (re-record) one line of dialogue for what turned out to be her last film, the 1965 horror flick, "Die! Die! My Darling!" The production is directed by Rob Ruggiero and features Brian Hutchison and Danny Michael Mulheren.
In reviewing "Looped's" 2008 premiere in Pasadena, Times theater critic Charles McNulty said: "Entertainment value is guaranteed when the subject is the one and only Tallulah Bankhead. ... And though Lombardo's drama could in no way be described as subtly crafted, the production (directed by Rob Ruggiero) has another secret weapon in Valerie Harper, who plays Bankhead with an all-out camp attack that softens over time into something more recognizably human."
What did the critics think of the Broadway show? Many seemed to be high on Harper, while expressing a variety of opinions about the play:
Bloomberg's John Simon declared that "Valerie Harper does a bravura turn on Broadway as Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo’s 'Looped.'" He added that "there is confident direction by Rob Ruggiero, managing the tricky changes of pace with aplomb. Finally, however, Harper outpaces everyone, as she should, and without ever losing our empathy."
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times said: "Mr. Lombardo’s play, efficiently directed by Rob Ruggiero, is basically a diva vehicle that resurrects the Bankhead of familiar stereotype — foulmouthed, hard drinking, foghorn voiced and sex crazed — for another weary stagger across the stage. With the corners of her mouth dragged down to her ankles, a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, Ms. Harper camps and vamps with determined proficiency, injecting plenty of life if not much verisimilitude into Mr. Lombardo’s cruel but enjoyably catty cliché."
Elysa Gardner of USA Today wrote: "Better to be in on the joke than to invite scorn or, worse, pity. That's clearly the perspective of Matthew Lombardo, the author of 'Looped' (* * * out of four)." She described the play as "a passionate, if not entirely convincing, rebuttal to anyone who has tried to reduce Bankhead to a punch line" and deemed it "extremely funny, thanks in large part to Valerie Harper's pitch-perfect portrait of the seminal diva."
And Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press found that "Matthew Lombardo has fashioned a frequently funny but at times labored little play" in which Harper "effectively submerges the iconic Rhoda Morgenstern." He called her voice "gravelly and coal-mine deep" and said "she has a ferocious sense of comic timing that punches up the sexual one-liners Lombardo sprinkles throughout the play."
-- Karen Wada
Above: Valerie Harper and Brian Hutchison in "Looped" on Broadway. Credit: Carol Rosegg / Associated Press / Boneau / Bryan-Brown