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Revival of `Front Page' packs plenty of punch

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The Front Page Play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Directed by Jerry Zaks. A crackling revival of ``The Front Page,'' by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, has exploded onto the stage of Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater.

An audience hit and a shocker when it opened on Broadway nearly 60 years ago, the comedy melodrama about the then low estate of Chicago's fourth estate retains sufficient sting and punch to jolt a susceptible spectator.

For those who have missed both the play and its film versions, ``The Front Page'' takes place in the pressroom of Chicago's Criminal Courts Building (visualized in fascinating perspective by set designer Tony Walton).

The authors are concerned with the grittier extremes of journalism's nitty-gritty.

The running poker game and distractions of casual newsgathering are interrupted by a convicted murderer's escape from the prison several floors below the press room.

Later on, when killer Earl Williams (Paul Stolarsky) climbs in through the pressroom window, reporter Hildy Johnson (Richard Thomas) and his managing editior Walter Burns (John Lithgow) scramble to secrete Williams, scoop the competition, and embarrass Chicago's inept sheriff (Richard B. Shull) and bumbling mayor (Jerone Dempsey).

Burns is equally determined to sabotage Hildy's plans for marriage and a break from journalistic toils to the rewards of a New York advertising job.

The final, devious Burns ploy involves one of the most celebrated curtain lines in modern American drama. Mr. Lithgow delivers it with fierce relish.

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