Be sure to arrive early at the theater, to enjoy its elegant $12 million restoration and an international melange of Sixties pop tunes playing over the sound system. After these delightful curtain-raisers fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the wild ride that is Boeing-Boeing, Marc Camoletti's near-forgotten farce that has been given sparkling new life, first on the West End and now on Broadway. There was a film version in 1965, with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis, which is coolly naturalistic compared to the frenetic and frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious show Lewis is so buttoned-up he may as well be performing Arthur Miller.
Assuming Lewis' role, as he did in London, is Mark Rylanceg, best known for his command of Shakespeare. Here the actor seizes his inner farceur and runs with it his performance is a complete original, a bit of Stan Laurel, a pinch of Samuel Beckett's doleful clowns, but mostly a kind of alchemy that only a performer at the peak of his powers can muster. He is Robert, a Wisconsin dullard who stops by the sleek Parisian pad of his swinging friend Bernard (West Wing Emmy winner Bradley Whitford). Bernard is settling into a state of matrimony-with three different fiancees, va-va-voom stewardesses blissfully innocent of each other. Bernard's perennially put-upon French maid Berthe (Christine Baranski) helps juggle the menus and linens, but on this particular morning, Boeing has introduced a super-sonic jet that scrambles the timetables and puts all three on a mid-air collision course in his apartment, necessitating Robert's participation to keep them apart.
Using a flat Midwestern accent (the actor grew up in Milwaukee), Rylance sneaks his way into the show, gradually transforming from sluggard to Romeo with each new arrival at the front door. Clad in Rob Howell's color-coordinated outfits, the coffee, tea, or me gals are a spectacular lot-Gloria (Kathryn Hahn), a winsome American with a secret self, Gabriella (Showgirls vixen Gina Gershon), an Italian who loves too much, and Gretchen (Mary McCormack), a Germanic powerhouse who is not to be deterred. As the show gives them each equal time, there's no need to pick a favorite. I loved Hahn's unexpected second act turnaround, and like most of her castmates Gershon cracks an outlandish accent like a whip she's also a period vamp du jour, styled after Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. But McCormack is the most formidably funny of the three, quite literally wrestling her way into Robert's affections, and tossing him around Howell's all-white set like a stuffed toy.
The show gets so physical that its few langours are entirely forgivable director Matthew Warchus, in his first Broadway outing in five years, relaxes the rattling pace just long enough to let the performers catch their breath. In terms of running time, the production might have had its wings clipped a little more closely, and Baranski doesn't really take off until the joyous curtain call. No matter: with Rylance at the controls, Boeing-Boeing flies first-class, and emerges as the comedy smash of the season.