(CBS/AP) Although past performances featuring numerous stars were often a bust - such as the film "Valentine's Day" - this is definitely not the case for Broadway's newest play "That Championship Season."
TV fans of "24" and "Sex and the City" can enjoy the strong cast of this performance which features the familiar faces of Jack Bauer and Mr. Big, also known as Kiefer Sutherland and Chris Noth.
You can forgive the audience a moment of stargazing. Because soon enough, this flashy cast -- which also includes Jason Patric, comedian Jim Gaffigan and the powerful Brian Cox -- quickly forms a smooth ensemble, sinking itself into the sobering world of Jason Miller's 1972 Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play, a searing depiction of one drunken night and the ugliness it gradually unearths.
"That Championship Season" is about four former jocks who gather for a reunion with their high school basketball coach 20 years after winning the state championship. They're in their 30s -- "heart attack season, boys!" as Coach chirps cheerfully. Some of the characters are regular reunion goers while others have long been mysteriously absent.
After a few hours of drinking and laughing, the once pleasant night turns into a mess of confessions.
Scottish-born Cox, a Royal Shakespeare Company veteran, gives a memorably powerful performance of the bombastic and foul-mouthed Coach, a man who bemoans the death of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, one of his heroes. Ailing badly, the man nonetheless holds his former players in his thrall as if they never grew up and took off those uniforms.
Gaffigan engages the audience with his performance as George, the angry and bigoted town mayor who faces re-election and has to gather funds to beat his challenger who, to his satisfaction, may have Communist relatives. He's also Jewish, which brings out George's anti-Semitic views. "The only thing a Jew changes more than his politics is his name," he sneers of his opponent.
James, George's campaign manager and the junior high principal is. His quiet and unappreciated role contrasts his powerful, intimidating role as Jack Bauer. James is small and weak, aspiring for more in life. "I am a talented man being swallowed up by anonymity!" he rails.
James' brother Tom is an alcoholic who gets progressively smashed, but not too much to point out Coach's hypocrisy with a bombshell later on. Tom is played by actor and son of playwright Miller, Patric.
Noth, best known for his roles as Mr. Big in "Sex and the City" and Detective Logan in "Law & Order," displays a comfortable and engaging stage presence as Phil, a wealthy businessman who has trouble keeping his pants zipped and bends the rules of both business and friendship.
Though the play may disturb some with its stark expressions of racism and anti-Semitism, the action is absorbing and well-paced, directed with an expert hand by Gregory Mosher.
At the curtain call of a recent preview, one of the cast members cracked a joke, and the rest of the actors broke up laughing. They left the stage arm-in-arm, still guffawing.
Such easy camaraderie would seem hard to fake, and it serves the cast well. "That Championship Season" has been revived to excellent effect by a talented, committed ensemble of actors.