"One of those definitive Broadway experiences." "Staged with the momentum of a ticking-bomb thriller and the zing of a boulevard comedy." "Crisp and entertaining."
Those are just a sample of the praises the critics have heaped on Broadway's newest hit play, "Frost/Nixon."
With less than three weeks left in the 2006-07 Broadway theater season, the British import not only has a lock on a best play Tony Award nomination, but it also looms as the front-runner to win the accolade.
It's pretty heady stuff for any play, especially a first play, and that is exactly what "Frost/Nixon" is.
But the play's author, British screen and television writer Peter Morgan, 44, is not exactly an unknown, having scripted the Oscar-nominated screenplay for "The Queen" and co-authored the screen adaptation of "The Last King of Scotland."
Morgan's maiden voyage on the stage covers heady ground: the period before, during and after British talk-show host Sir David Frost's now-legendary 1977 series of televised interviews with former U.S. President Nixon.
Under Frost's relentless questioning about his involvement in the illegal political espionage, violation of public trust, bribery, contempt for Congress and attempted obstruction of justice involved in the Watergate scandal, Nixon conceded for the only time that he had "made mistakes," "said things that were not true" and "screwed up terribly."
Forty-five million people tuned into the first of Frost's quartet of 90-minute-long cross-examinations, making it, to this day, the most-watched political news interview in television history.
Through the years, Nixon has remained a perpetually fascinating subject for dramatization. The former president has previously turned up as a character in numerous works, including motion pictures by Oliver Stone and Robert Altman, a play by Gore Vidal, John Adams' opera, "Nixon in China," and at least 20 episodes of "The Simpsons."
In "Frost/Nixon," Morgan casts the discredited leader as the contemporary equivalent of a tragic hero in a classic Greek tragedy. Cursed with the urge to destroy himself, Morgan's Nixon hears "voices ring in his head," urging him to do whatever it takes to overcome his inevitable destiny to be a "little man" and "loser."
In a repeat of their London assignments, two-time Tony Award winner Frank Langella and Michael Sheen (British Prime Minister Tony Blair in "The Queen") portray Nixon and Frost respectively.
The Nixon character, of course, is by far the showier role, and Langella has reaped lavish praise for his performance.
As one major critic put it, the performance is "truly titanic. … One of those made-for-the-stage studies in controlled excess in which larger-than-life seems truer-to-life than merely life-size ever could."
Counting down the days to opening night, Morgan characterized his state of mind as "completely terrified."
The director was most concerned about American critics' response to a British writer's take on not just any traumatic moment in contemporary American history, but one that specifically involved an American president.
But he also took comfort in the responses of preview audiences.