Review: ‘The Lion in Winter’ at the Colony Theatre

It’s Christmas in Chinon, France, circa AD 1183, and yuletide is anything but harmonious at the Plantagenet homestead.

Dad is in a blustering royal frenzy over his legacy. His three sons are backstabbing each other to inherit the English crown. The French princess intended for whoever does so is Pop’s enervated mistress.

And then there’s Mum, on holiday prison leave, scheming to destroy her husband through their children. Well, as she puts it, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?


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So goes “The Lion in Winter” at the Colony Theatre. James Goldman’s florid, entertaining take on William the Conqueror’s antecedents receives a handsome, albeit still-gelling revival.

Director Stephanie Vlahos rallies a stalwart design team, with David Potts’ Gothic arch-laden set, Kate Bergh’s lush costumes, Jared A. Sayeg’s moody lighting and Drew Dalzell’s eclectic sound meeting the Colony’s high standards.

Where she falters is in performance tone, her proficient cast periodically revealing an overpracticed declamatory attack at odds with the requisite modern behavioral allusions.

Thus, ever-reliable Mariette Hartley makes a wry, understated Eleanor of Aquitaine, whereas valiant Ian Buchanan strenuously stretches his urbanity to approximate Henry II’s ruthless bravado.

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Brendan Ford, Paul Turbiak and Doug Plaut are correct yet more archetypal than effortless as their progeny. Justine Hartley splits the difference as pawn Alais, here nuanced, there histrionic; Paul David Story as her teen monarch brother should refine his French dialect or drop it altogether.

Nevertheless, it’s a surefire crowd pleaser, ever since Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris introduced it on Broadway and Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn immortalized it on screen. If this “Lion” doesn’t always suspend disbelief, audiences will certainly enjoy its internecine mayhem.

“The Lion in Winter,” Colony Theatre, 555 North 3rd Street, Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 18. $20-$49. (818) 558-7000 ext. 15 or Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.