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Arts and Theater 1
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Black Tie International:
"Cactus Flower"


"Cactus Flower"

By Ward Morehouse III


Lois Robbins and Jenni Barber in “Cactus Flower”

Lois Robbins and Jenni Barber in “Cactus Flower”
the Westside Theatre (407 W 43 ST).
Photo by: Carol Rosegg




I loved "Cactus Flower," a scanty but endearing comedy, which opened March 10 at Off-Broadway's Westside Theatre.  What the play lacks in originality is offset by moments of sheer hilarity thanks largely to Michael Bush's masterful direction and a winning cast lead by Maxwell Caulfield, Lois Robbins and Jenni Barber.
This is "Cactus Flower's" first major New York revival since it opened 46 years ago -- and seven blocks to the east and north of the Westside Theatre -- at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre to rave reviews for star Lauren Bacall.
Written by the late Abe Burrows, and based on a French farce by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy, "Cactus Flower" is Burrows' second New York production this year. He also co-wrote the book for the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" which being revived at Broadway's Al Hirschfield Theatre this month.
Caulfield, no stranger to Broadway or Off-Broadway ("An Inspector Calls", "Chicago", "Tryst"), strikes just the right balance between his distress he can't marry his young mistress to disdain for her new young suitor who lives next door.  The handsome and virile Caulfield is also a throwback to the leading matinee idols of yore, from the romantic Charles Boyer to the long-legged light comedian Ray Bolger who was in the original Broadway production of the musical
"Where's Charley" and "The Wizard of Oz."
Stunning Lois Robbins, perhaps best known for her TV roles in "One Life to Live" and "Loving," plays the title role of Stephanie Dickinson, the prickly nurse who, not so secretly, holds a torch for her duplicitous dentist boss - - and finally flowers into a middle-aged Cinderella.  Jenni Barber, who co-starred in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," may have the hardest act to follow if one remembers Goldie Hawn's breakout performance in the movie version of "Cactus Flower." But she's certainly up to the challenge, bouncing between her genuine innocence to alluring sexuality. The playwrights give her character a unique twist:  She urges her lover Caulfield to try and do more to please his ex-wife -- or the woman she thinks is his ex-wife.  He plays ball until neither he nor his nurse, pretending to be his ex-wife, can't stand it any more.  Caulfield, Robbins and Barber are ably and amusingly aided by the supporting cast of Anthony Reimer, John Herrera, Robin Skye, Jeremy Bobb and Emily Walton.
Daryl Roth Productions and Stonemile Productions have presented "Cactus Flower" at the Westside Theatre. This time out it may not be one of the biggest hits of the current season, let alone the decade of the 1960's, when  the original ran for a whopping 1274 performances.
But take off your thinking cap -- and leave your own worries at the doorstep -- you're in for two hours of fun and several scenes of side-splitting laughs.
"Cactus Flower" plays at the Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd St,  Tuesdays at 7, Wednesdays - Saturdays at 8, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3.

Joyce Brooks

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