The Philadelphia Story is far more fun than the plays that have preceded it. And with Jennifer Ehle shining in the part Barry wrote for Katherine Hepburn in 1939, and Spacey himself at his most debonaire in the role played by Cary Grant onscreen, it’s sure to bring the crowds to the Waterloo Road.
Jerry Zaks’s production is fluent enough, but can’t hide the fact that Barry makes too little of his most promising comic situation, the pretence to the intrusive journo that Tracy’s bottom-pinching uncle is actually her father; but then it’s not well motivated in the first place. Julia McKenzie, Nicholas Le Prevost and others add lustre to the evening, but only Ehle is truly excellent. Whatever the cavils, she’s an Artemis with a bit of Amazon in her heart — and, it emerges, a touch of Dionysus in her soul.
Wisely, Jennifer Ehle makes no attempt to impersonate Hepburn; and she is very good in the early scenes at capturing both Tracy's lordliness and starched sexiness. She also conveys Tracy's pain at being cruelly told by her scapegrace father that what she lacks is "an understanding heart". But, although Ehle has Tracy's moneyed style, I missed the melting eroticism of the scene where she drunkenly unbends with the adoring journalist: Jerry Zaks' fastidious production never quite captures the sense that we are seeing a new, more emotionally generous woman.