A revival that didn’t need reviving

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Catharine Cody.

Annex - Stewart, James (Harvey)_04Sometimes the original cannot be improved. How does one improve upon perfection?

That was my reaction to the Broadway revival, Harvey.

Allow me to explain…
A few weekends ago, I had the chance to see one of my all-time FAVORITE movies on Broadway.  Written in 1944 by American playwright Mary Chase, “Harvey” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945.  After a brief stint on the stage, the play was made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart. You may remember him from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Rear Window,” but in my mind, he’s synonymous with that big white rabbit, 6 feet 3 and a half inches tall, named Harvey.
For those of you unfamiliar with the storyline, “Harvey” is about a grown man who has an imaginary friend named Harvey.  Harvey is a big, white rabbit sometimes referred to as a pooka.  The story takes place in the span of one day when a woman decides to commit her older brother, Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart)to an insane asylum. It’s a heart-warming flick on the top of my all-time favorite movie list, along with “Gone with the Wind” and “The Mummy.”(I know, odd choices, but to each his own!)
I was spellbound when I first saw the movie “Harvey.”  From the opening line of “every day is a lovely day,” to the last scene when Harvey and Stewart walk home, I was captivated.  As a member of generation Y, one might think that I wouldn’t enjoy a black and white flick.  But boy, do I.  Anything sans color is right up my alley.
So, you can imagine my excitement when my father bought us two seats to see the revival of the play, “Harvey,” starring Jim Parsons.  I knew that no one would be able to come close to Stewart.  But, I went in with an open mind.  The writing speaks for itself.  Anyone delivering the lines Chase penned would be sure to evoke the same emotions, right?  Not so much.
Stepping over the fact that some of the best scenes were cut entirely, some of the lines that WERE kept in the play were totally butchered.  Jimmy Stewart has a certain presence that just cannot be copied.  He delivers his lines perfectly, slowly and warmly.  Jim Parsons, who played Elwood P. Dowd in the new play, reported that he never saw the original movie.  Parsons rushed through some of the most heart-warming lines and completely butchered the meaning.
In one scene, Stewart explains how he came upon the name “Harvey” for his rabbit-friend.  His psychiatrist asks, “Didn’t you know anyone-ever, whose name was Harvey?”  To which Stewart replies, “No, maybe that’s why I always had such high hopes.”  In the movie, this line is a stitch.  I crack up immediately when he says it.  Well, in the play, Parsons rushes right through it barely eliciting a chuckle from the audience.
No one, in my opinion, can live up to Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd.  Jim Parsons tries- and fails.
Now to all you folks reading this, I’ve got to go hang out with one of MY best friends.  He’s a dog. His name is Rooney.  He’s visible, but still a pookah.  Oh, and my regards to you and anyone else you should happen to meet along the way…

7 thoughts on “A revival that didn’t need reviving

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you, Julie. Could you imagine anyone but James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano? Same thing with Stewart and Elwood P. Dowd. Oh, and as Mr. Dowd would say: ‘Good day to you and to anyone else you may meet along the way.’

  2. The New York Times gave Parsons and the play a rave review. My guess is that, like Parsons, the Times critic had never seen the movie.

  3. Very rarely does a remake of a classic film outshine the original. Can you imagine a remake of “The Godfather” or “The Graduate”? Jimmy Stewart was a classic; he’s a tough act to follow. Some things need to be left alone.

  4. The New York Times gave Parsons and the play a rave review. My guess is that, like Parsons, the Times critic had never seen the movie.

  5. That makes sense. I seem to remember something similar happening with Steve Carell when they tried to make “Get Smart” into a movie. He wanted to take Maxwell Smart in a different direction, knowing he may not be able to do what Don Adams did. Maybe if I had not seen and loved the original show (again another favorite, partially because Mel Brooks is amazing), I would have enjoyed the film. I wonder what the reaction is from people who have had no experience with the original “Harvey.” Do they view Parson’s performance as stale?

  6. Thanks, Bedrock. Parsons was quoted as saying he purposely didn’t watch Stewart’s performance because he wanted to bring something new to the role. What he brought was new all right. It was just a very stale new.

  7. Great post. As a fellow “Harvey” fan, I’m sorry to hear that the revival doesn’t live up to the original–not that I’m that surprised. Jimmy Stewart is hands down one of my favorite actors EVER, he also plays Glenn Miller (who is one of my favorite musicians/composers EVER), so that just combines two of my favorite things. You can’t help but love him and he is amazing in that role.
    I am surprised that Parsons wouldn’t bother to watch the original, unless he wanted to add his own flavor to the character? Either way, maybe you shouldn’t of had such high hopes . . .