Harvey Returns to Broadway With Reinvigorated Charm

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A very amiable and otherwise harmless man – he drinks a bit and his best friend is an invisible rabbit – is persecuted by relatives who want him institutionalized so he’ll stop embarrassing them.

Complications ensue, but in the end the man and his invisible friend are restored to freedom, and the other characters reflect on the possibility that the most eccentric among us may have the firmest grip on what’s important in life.

That plot sounds a bit quaint for sophisticated, cynical New York theatergoers in 2012, doesn’t it?

Harvey, the play that tells that story, certainly hit audiences in the right place when it came to Broadway in 1944. It won playwright Mary Chase the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945, and the original production ran for more than four years. Jimmy Stewart was among those who played the lead character, Elwood P. Dowd, during the original run. He reprised the role in the 1950 movie version and again when Harvey had its only Broadway revival in 1970.

Now Harvey is back, as is the rabbit, looking just the same (as far as we can tell). His companion this time, in the new Roundabout Theatre Company production at Studio 54, is played by television star Jim Parsons, of the sitcom "The Big Bang Theory." New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood lets us know if Harvey is still worth seeing, and if Parsons’s portrayal can make the strong imprint of Jimmy Stewart disappear.