"Game of Thrones" star Emilia Clarke couldn't banish the ghost of Audrey Hepburn and "Moon River" in the new Broadway production of "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
The Truman Capote novella has been adapted for stage and screen with varying degrees of success over the years — Blake Edwards' 1961 film is beloved by many but expunged the story's darker shades, while a 1966 musical version with Mary Tyler Moore was yanked before officially opening.
Given the critical drubbing this new show received, it might have done well to have followed the example of the latter. Starring Clarke — best known for playing a dragon-toting princess on HBO's hit "Thrones" series — as girl-about-town Holly Golightly, and with a script by Tony-winning playwright Richard Greenberg, it was intended to be more faithful to Capote's vision, but many critics groused that it was just a slog to sit through.
Ben Brantley's talons were out in the New York Times. He wrote that the on-stage proceedings were enervating and complained that Clarke could not capture Golightly's down-country origins, even though she looked glamorous in duds courtesy of Oscar-winning costumer Colleen Atwood.
He did offer some praise for the cast's feline member.
"There are a couple of party scenes that throb with the unease of people working overtime to make you believe they’re having fun," Brantley wrote. "The star of the first of these is a big orange tabby (selected from a much-publicized casting call) that, when I saw the show, leapt out of Holly’s arms and into the wings before the festivities really got started. That cat exuded an enviable air of devil-may-care independence as it zipped off the stage. Maybe it should have played Holly. In any case I knew I wanted to go wherever that cat was going."
Associated Press critic Mark Kennedy branded the play as "ill-conceived." In a blistering assessment, Kennedy said the play is if anything too faithful to Capote and too enamored of its World War II-era setting. He was no fan of Clarke's work.
"Clarke gamely tries hard but tends to overact and sometimes seems to have picked the wrong Hepburn — Katharine, not Audrey — to model her accent," Kennedy writes. "She says 'darling' too much, appears nude in a completely unnecessary bathtub scene and plays guitar while singing in another, but that drags on so long it undercuts its poignancy."
In Vulture, Jesse Green said Greenberg had demystified Golightly's story, but implied that the coarsening of her Manhattan saga was to the audience's detriment.
"'Breakfast at Tiffany’s' may be the least noir fiction ever, yet all the noir clichés are in place here: the chiaroscuro lighting, the neon signs, the slashing dits and dashes of rain. In such an environment, Capote’s graceful humor wilts," Green writes.
Chris Jones struck a softer note in his review in the Chicago Tribune, though he did label the show "disappointing." He said the supporting cast, which includes "Cheers" star George Wendt, was strong but could not rescue the lack of chemistry between Clarke and her co-star Cory Michael Smith, who plays the narrator Fred.
"There's no palpable connection between Fred and Holly, the unlikely and surely ill-fated couple of Capote's imagination," Jones writes. "One can watch this entire misguided and miscast production without really discerning what the one feels about the other."
For David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter, Greenberg's adaptation is a signal that it's time to call a "moratorium" on stage versions of "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
"It’s a daunting and thankless task to list all the things that went wrong in this lethargic retelling, so let’s start with the good," Rooney writes "The ginger tom playing protagonist Holly Golightly’s cat, the 'poor slob without a name,' is a scene-stealing treasure in his few minutes of stage time. Pretty much everything else is harder to love."
So in the final analysis, skip "Breakfast at Tiffany's" unless you're a cat person.