25 July 2024
  • 25 July 2024

The Slab Boys on Broadway by Brian Hannan

on 14 January 2023 0

Brian Hannan from Abbey Books in Paisley talks through The Slab Boys on Broadway programme, a beautiful piece of John Byrne memorabilia.

You are probably unaware just how big a global success iconic Paisley author/painter John Byrne achieved with his play The Slab Boys. I was, too, until among a recent donation to Abbey Books I came across the programme for the play when it opened on Broadway in New York at the 499-seat Playhouse Theatre on March 7, 1983, following three weeks of previews, and five years after its premiere in Edinburgh.

But look at the killer cast. Three movie stars for a start. If you only know Kevin Bacon from his broadband adverts, he was very much the rising star in 1983, an acclaimed part in Diner (1982) and taking the leading role here before moving on to Footloose (1984). He played Phil in the play.

And if that wasn’t enough, check out Val Kilmer as Alan. Kilmer had yet to make a movie but when he did he would shake Hollywood to its foundations when he co-starred with Tom Cruise in Top Gun (1987) and then go on to essay Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991), Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever (1995) and reprise his role as Maverick’s rival and now boss in last year’s sequel.

The Slab Boys

The Slab Boys on Broadway cast

And it that wasn’t enough, give a big round of applause to the first Mr Madonna Sean Penn, another rising star with Taps (1982) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). A future double Oscar-winner – for Mystic River (2003) and Milk (2008) and three nominations besides – he played Spanky.

Completing the rebellious foursome was Jack Earle Haley as Hector. Also later Oscar-nominated (for Little Children, 2006), Haley had made his name in The Bad News Bears (1976) alongside Walter Matthau, its sequel The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978), and Breaking Away (1979).

It was a sensational cast and if an enterprising Hollywood had tried to put this quartet into a movie in their prime their combined salaries would have rendered it impossible.

Surprisingly, the production didn’t dumb down the play. It was still set in Elderslie, Scotland, and the action still took place in the slab room, described in the programme as a “small, paint bespattered hole.”

And unlike the off-Broadway production seen in New York two years before where none of the cast attempted a Scottish accent, the actors here were praised as being “as good at Scottish accents as they are at quick repartee.”

Bacon was viewed as “charismatic” (Stage and Television Today) and as delivering a “performance full of restless energy” (Variety). However, Variety tabbed Kilmer as “an actor to watch” for his “underplayed and suggestive performance that seems casual but isn’t.”

That there were very high hopes for the play can be seen by the fact it was presented by an offshoot of Paramount Pictures, which had financed the production. It was competing for an audience with Cats, Amadeus, A Chorus Line, a revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and, also presented by Paramount, the award-winning Agnes of God (later a movie starring Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft).

Unlike the often scanty programmes sold for stage shows in Britain, this was a pretty big deal, at 64-pages an excellent read, a proper magazine full of glossy adverts and a wide range of interesting articles.

If you wish to purchase a piece of history, we’ve got a copy on sale at Abbey Books in Wellmeadow Street, Paisley.

The Slab Boys

(And there’s another Scottish connection – the photo above features and ad for Halston, who was played in the Netflix series by Ewan McGregor).

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