"george c. scott in present laughter"

Published July 11, 1982


George C. Scott in Present Laughter (7/11/82)



Present Laughter has been presented on Broadway six times. The lead role of Gary Essendine has been played by Clifton Webb, Noël Coward, George C. Scott, Frank Langella, Victor Garber, and Kevin Kline.

In 1982, when Circle in the Square producers Paul Libin and Theodore Mann took George C. Scott to lunch and made him an offer, they were surprised at his response. They were planning a production of Present Laughter with Frank Langella, but Langella had to drop out due to a film commitment. They wanted Scott for the role of Garry Essendine. Scott responded by quoting lines from the play – he had played Essendine in summer stock in Ohio! He said he loved Coward and would accept their invitation if he could also direct. They agreed. The cast was rounded out with Nathan Lane (his Broadway debut), Dana Ivey (her second Broadway role), Christine Lahti, and Kate Burton, right out of Yale Drama School. (Kate’s most recent role on Broadway was also in Present Laughter, in 2017, with Kevin Kline.)

The cast enjoyed working with the man who was best known for his Oscar-winning role as General Patton. He had a strong work ethic, knew his lines, and was always on time. Dana Ivey recalls his wonderfully generous spirit and that he relied on the actors and respected what they brought to the table. Dana also remembered that Scott had a great sense of humor.

The critics felt that it was a wonderful stroke of miscasting, which worked. Headlines read “Bull Scott triumphs in Coward china shop;” and “When miscasting pays off handsomely.”

Frank Rich’s review in The New York Times began “For about 10 minutes, it may bother you that George C. Scott is in some ways totally miscast as the hero of Noël Coward's Present Laughter. After that, you may well say: who cares? Mr. Scott is pickled with high spirits in this play. He's not just terrifically funny - he's actually having fun on stage.” Rex Reed wrote “What a shame Scott doesn’t do more comedy. When he works himself into such a lather that there is nothing left to do but fall face down on the beige carpet, and kick his heels in a tantrum, the audience collapses with laughter. There is no way that you can be in the same theater when Scott’s having fun and not be happy to be invited to the party.”

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