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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Mixed Bag of Humor in
Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me

Martin Short
Martin Short, center, with (clockwise, l-r) Mary Birdsong, Brooks Ashmanskas, Nicole Parker, Marc Shaiman
Jiminy Glick, Irving Cohen and a little of Ed Grimley are on stage at the Curran Theatre in the person of the chameleon-like character comedian Martin Short in his pre-Broadway show, Fame Becomes Me. This production still looks like a work in progress and it certainly needs a lot of tightening before it goes to New York. At present, it is a hodge podge of comedic scenes, some hilarious and some missing their mark. Short is parodying an insecure "star" who is making a one person show. In a scene with his stage wife, he lays his head on her lap and says "I hope the audience loved me."  The wife retorts by saying 50 percent did and 50 percent did not. 

Martin Short is a master at presenting characters like Jiminy Glick and Irving Cohen. There is no one like him in the current entertainment field. His high energy keeps him moving, as he jumps around the stage, flying like Peter Pan in one scene and doing off-the-cuff remarks with his composer and pianist Marc Shaiman; his impish grin is infectious.

Martin Short became very popular during the Second City and Saturday Night Live series on television, but he has never really made it on the big screen as a top rated comedian. He has been cast as a comic character actor in quite a few films, many of his which, such as Clifford and Jiminy Glick in Lalawood (the latter went straight to DVD), failed. Martin has been quoted as saying "What's great about being a character actor is you know you can survive forever."

Base Entertainment and Harbor Entertainment wisely put five wonderful, comically and vocally talented persons in the show to support Short in this two hour, ten minute production with intermission. Capathia Jenkins (Caroline or Change, The Look of Love) is awesome, and brings down the house with the powerhouse "Big Black Lady Stops the Show." She sings strongly about how every musical needs "a big black lady" to sell the 11 o'clock number. She even sings that if Julie Andrews had a black maid in My Fair Lady, it still would be playing on Broadway. Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong, Nicole Parker and composer Marc Shaiman are certainly assets to this fast paced lampoon.

The show opens with a typically perky Christmas party and the five comedy all stars are on stage singing the praises of the legendary artist who will soon be coming down the steps. At first we see only the lower portion of the great man's body and then, finally, Martin Short with all smiles comes tripping down the steps. You get the idea this is meant to lampoon every show opening song, especially when they sing "A party with Marty" and Marty sings "Hello, I'm the show opening song."

The great opening scene is closely followed by the first scene of Martin's life. It is a brilliant scene of Martin dressed as a one-week-old baby, surrounded by Nicole Parker and Brooks Ashmanskas as babies, in the crib at the hospital waiting for his parents to take him home. In the song, aptly called "Babies," Baby Martin sings of "big tits."

The camp version of the character's childhood life in Hamilton, Ontario continues with a parody of the ego-driven star talking about his "father" Shim O'Short who was a big star in Canadian films (that is funny in itself). (Actually, Martin's father was Charles Patrick Short, an Irish VP of a Canadian car company.) There is a scene from Slim's "famous film" with Mary Birdsong portraying a realistic young Judy Garland as Dorothy in the The Wizard of Oz. She gives a brilliant performance as the young Garland, singing a parody of "Over the Rainbow" called "The Farmer's Daughter" and wishes for a bunch of Anne Murray records.

The first act has side-splitting satires of Broadway musicals, as Martin's stage character goes to New York to break into big time Broadway musicals. The songs are clever spoofs, such as Mary Birdsong and Nicole Parker as Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel trying to outdo each other in Wicked. Brooks Ashmanskas plays 10-foot-tall Tommy Tune on stilts in a scene that could be developed more. There is a parody of Bob Fosse that is hilarious, with Martin doing some great dancing to Christopher Gattelli's perceptive choreography. One of the high spots in the segment is a musical lampooning of an ethnic rock musical that is a cross between Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar called Step Brother de Jesus, with Martin brightly playing J.C. At the end of this mini-musical, the cast take off their clothes and we see faux costumes of nude bodies with family jewels showing. It is hilarious and it brings down the house. Slava's Snowshow gets a ribbing as a giant snowball prop comes down from the rafters to hide Martin in several scenes.

The second act is more cohesive and features Jiminy Glick interviewing a celebrity in the audience (on opening night it was Dennis Miller). While Martin is getting into the fantastic Glick costume, Mary Birdsong and Nicole Parker give wonderful parodies of Joan Rivers, motherhood-challenge Britney Spears and Celine Dion. Mary Birdsong does a marvelous true-to-life Ellen DeGeneres in this segment. Jiminy Glick's interview is strictly ad lib and it is uproarious as Martin goes all out in his portrayal of the verbose interviewer. Dennis Miller gave Jiminy a run for his money and several times the talkative man broke up with Dennis's ad libs. About halfway into the long interview, Dennis said, "Is this the whole second act?" Martin should be so lucky, to get someone of this caliber every night for the gig.

The rest of the evening is taken up by his thoughts of what people will think of him when he goes to that theatre in the sky. This is probably not so strange an idea since many one-person shows include some version of this idea. The scene take place in heaven and everyone is dressed in angel wings. Martin becomes that famous legend of show biz, Irving Cohen, my most favorite character in the whole show. With a faux New York Jewish accent, Irving is side-splitting as he sings some of his greatest songs of the '20s. Even Marc Shaiman gets into the act as the chief angel. It is a great scene and it should be enlarged since Martin is priceless as the George Jessel character. Later, Marc does a Tom Lehrer take-off at the piano, singing his own song about having to show his big butt during the heaven scene.

Martin Short turns serious at the end by singing "Glass Half Full" which shows the true nature of this comedian. He sings about his his wife of 27 years and their three wonderful daughters. This shows Martin as a true family man happy with his life.

Fame Becomes Me must be considered a work in progress since on opening night Marc Shaiman admitted a new song had just been added. The current state of the musical is a rambling affair with no cohesiveness in the first act. It looks as if the producers are throwing everything into this production - in fact, I think I recognized a kitchen sink in the Thanksgiving scene. You get the feeling the producers are saying if it works, fine, great; if something doesn't work, dump it. One scene in the first act seems to have been thrown together just to give Martin a chance to do some impersonations of Katherine Hepburn, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. It is a scene straight out of the Robert De Niro movie King of Comedy where the young Martin is game playing a talk show in basement of their Hamilton home.

The work in progress contains many zingers that may or may not be in the New York production. Some are rather bitchy remarks by Martin in character, such as telling the five very talented performers at the beginning of the show to get off stage since he is the star. He says "Gypsies get off the stage and go to your studio apartments." Some of the ad libs between Marc and Martin are wonderful.

Fame Becomes Me is attractively packaged and Jess Goldstein has devised some vibrantly amusing costumes. Scott Pask designed cartoon sets and Chris Lee has some wonderful kaleidoscopic lights. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have written some very clever songs for Martin and gang. Marc is also great with his campy humor on stage.

Martin Short Fame Becomes Me plays at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco through May 21st. For tickets please call 415-512-7770 or visit www.shnsf.com Best of Broadway is also presenting at the Orpheum Theatre, Market at 8th, San Francisco Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan It plays through May 21st.


Photo: Paul Kolnik


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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