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Reasons to see 'The Shark Is Broken' on Broadway

The bitingly funny play by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon dramatizes the infamous tension between Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, and Roy Scheider while filming Jaws.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Walking into the Golden Theatre for The Shark Is Broken is a surprisingly calm experience, considering the play is inspired by the hair-raising Jaws. The film's famous Orca boat, faithfully recreated by set designer Duncan Henderson, gently "bobs" up and down with the aid of Nina Dunn's video projections. Easy listening tunes ebb and flow from the speakers. And suddenly, out of the sea of mellow rock music, out pops ABBA's "Waterloo" like a dorsal fin.

It's a winking nod to Jaws's most famous speech, that delivered — and written — by the late Robert Shaw as Quint, about surviving the attack on the U.S.S. Indianapolis during World War II. The Shark Is Broken, by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon, takes a deep dive into the genesis of that speech and more behind-the-scenes lore surrounding Jaws. Namely, that Robert Shaw and his co-stars, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider, rarely saw eye-to-eye. Being repeatedly stuck on the Orca thanks to weeks of filming delays didn't help.

See the drama and intrigue build at The Shark Is Broken, which will reel in any fan of the movie — or anyone looking to laugh as the actors trade zinger after zinger, all sharp as harpoons. Not to mention sly Jaws references that pop up in the most unexpected ways. Dun dun. Dun dun...

The casting is perfect on more levels than one.

Let's start with The Shark Is Broken itself. Director Guy Masterson assembled a trio that not only resembles their Jaws counterparts (Henderson's costumes help), but, as any Jaws fan will attest, gets their mannerisms down pat. Alex Brightman perfectly recreates Dreyfuss's laugh and onscreen gestures, and all it takes is a pair of oversized glasses for Colin Donnell to transform into Roy Scheider. As for Ian Shaw, the resemblance to Robert Shaw is baked in — the late actor is his father, and Ian Shaw co-wrote and stars in The Shark Is Broken in part as a tribute to him.

On another level, the play points to how spot-on the casting for Jaws was, too. As they're portrayed in The Shark Is Broken, Shaw, Scheider, and Dreyfuss are actually quite similar to their Amity Island characters. Shaw is the rough, rugged one of the bunch, much like the shark hunter Quint. Dreyfuss, like the scientist Matt Hooper, is young, neurotic, and ambitious. And Scheider is amicable and even-keeled, as is his character of police chief Martin Brody. No wonder their onscreen performances remain iconic.

Alex Brightman swims away with the show.

All three actors perform swimmingly, but Brightman's a standout. The stage veteran is known for playing irreverently funny, larger-than-life characters, like Dewey Finn in School of Rock or the title character in Beetlejuice on Broadway. In one particularly hilarious scene in The Shark Is Broken, fans of those performances get to watch him do what he does best.

Alone on stage, Brightman's Dreyfuss mockingly impersonates Shaw. "I have striven, with the sweat of my brow and the strain of my sinew, to become the largest douchebag in the history of the universe," he says, affecting a British accent. Then he moves onto Scheider, shifting to the nasally kind of voice associated with nerds in high school comedies. Watching each actor portray their respective Jaws star is fun, but watching Brightman caricature them all is a great-white-sized hoot.

The Shark Is Broken stays true to the spirit of the film.

"What do you think it's about?" Dreyfuss asks of Jaws in the final 10 minutes of The Shark Is Broken. "This fucking movie! It's got to be about something, right?"

The men toss around theories like they're in a literary seminar. "I think it's about the subconscious," Dreyfuss continues. "I think it's about responsibility," counters Scheider. As for Shaw? "It's really about a shark! Don't read any more into it. Do you really think people are going to be talking about this in 50 years?"

Cue laughter, as we're now 48 years on from Jaws's release. Nonetheless, Shaw's got a point. Maybe Jaws is just about a shark, but that didn't stop it from being the success that put Steven Spielberg on the map. The Shark Is Broken is much the same.

Maybe it, too, is about the subconscious (Ian Shaw's fascination with his late father) or responsibility (perhaps the men's feud made their performances better). Or maybe it's just about a mechanical shark that keeps breaking down while three Hollywood hotshots bicker — and sometimes bond — in a boat. It's an entertaining summer diversion all the same.

Get tickets to The Shark Is Broken on Broadway.

The Shark Is Broken, like Jaws in 1975, is a great summer blockbuster. It has it all, flooding its 95 minutes with sharks and squabbles and Spielberg, oh my. Say it with us now: They're gonna need a bigger boat!

Photo credit: Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw, and Colin Donnell in The Shark Is Broken. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

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