4 Stars: Martin Short: Fames Becomes Me
Martin Short is not only the funniest man on Broadway right now, he's also the smartest. And he may very well be the most generous. Right up front, you will laugh yourself stupid at Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. He walks that immaculate line between being dangerously funny enough to make most New York theater snobs guffaw while being insanely mainstream enough to make the bridge and tunnel audience give him a standing ovation at the end of the show. Edgy and adorable all at once, Short will run long, long, long on Broadway.
As for the smartest man working the Great White Way, well, he not only hired the hottest musical comedy songwriting team in town, Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, he also hired four stunningly talented co-stars and gave them every opportunity to show just how great they actually are. Smart? Most stars would never give another actor the chance to steal the limelight the way Short does. But so talented and confident is he that he can give his four co-stars every opportunity to shine, and in fact steal the spotlight. No matter. He always steals it right back. His four co-stars are a big part of the show's success and their performances don't overshadow Short's but rather provide a high comic bulwark upon which he can strut his stuff.
The musical is structured as Short's (mock) autobiography. A send-up of popular and profitable celebrity solo shows by the likes of Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Elaine Stritch, Short tells his story, inclusive of a Canadian show business father who starred in a show suspiciously and (hilariously) like The Wizard of Oz. Playing his father (who, in turn, is playing a picket fence rather than a scarecrow), he sings a song called "Sittin' on the Fence" to Mary Birdsong as a deliciously deadpan Dorothy. By the way, Jess Goldstein's costumes are wonderfully playful throughout, including the picket fence in this inspired number.
Later, Short will grow up and come to Broadway where he'll audition for Tommy
Tune and Bob Fosse (both played to comic perfection by Brooks Ashmanskas, the former performed entirely on stilts!). These scenes and others – funny as they are - end up borrowing from the same bank as Spamalot, Urinetown, and other theatrically self-referential shows that owe their creative spark to Forbidden Broadway.
The supporting cast includes Marc Shaiman who is a loveable foil for Short, and the aforementioned Birdsong and Ashmanskas, both of whom make hay (bales of it) out of their many and varied opportunities. Ashmanskas, in particular, gets to display more versatility in his supporting role than most stars get to show in a full production. Also standing out in their supporting parts are Nicole Parker and Capathia Jenkins.
The only real slow spot in the show for us is the celebrity interview segment on stage with someone plucked from the audience. At our performance it was Tracey Ullman; unscripted, this can either be wonderful or it can take the wind out of the show's sails. The latter happened at our show. It took a little while for Short to regain momentum, but there's nothing that happens that is so long in this intermission-less show that it can kill its generally good-natured comedy nor its kinetic pacing provided by director Scott Wittman, who also co-conceived this tasty fruitcake of a show with Martin Short.
4 Stars: Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway
Who says cabaret can't be a springboard to success? We go way back with Kiki & Herb to when they played late shows at Eighty Eights down in The Village to largely empty houses. It was a strange and somehow compelling act back then. And now they're on Broadway. Who would have ever thunk it? The remarkable observation is that they're still a strange and compelling act but somehow while they've remained essentially the same, the audience has finally been catching up to them.
They played Carnegie Hall a couple of years ago, which is mind-blowing to begin with, but that was one night. Can they fill the Helen Hayes Theatre – even though it's the smallest Broadway house at 500 seats – for a full four weeks? They probably don't need to sell 16,000 seats at full price to make a profit, but still it's pretty ballsy to take an act like Kiki & Herb's and put it on the main stem. This is not a bridge & tunnel show. It's not even a show that will appeal to the larger part of the theater crowd. We know regular theatergoers/journalists who were offended by the duo's material and walked out at intermission. That doesn't happen to Martin Short. Nonetheless, Kiki & Herb's fans are a loyal bunch and the NY Times rave their show received earlier this week will bring them new fans, as well. Or at least it will bring them a larger audience willing to give them a try.
Kiki & Herb: Alive on Broadway is an impressively tight show in all its many meanings. Kiki gets tight almost from the moment she enters and continues to drink copious amounts of alcohol throughout the show. But even at nearly two-and-a-half hours in length, the show only seems bloated in the middle of the second act when Kiki sings three endlessly long, emotionally overwrought songs. But then that's the point, isn't it? That's what they do.
If you don't know Kiki & Herb, the first act is rather amazing. It catches you up on their personalities and their history (some of it newly imagined) with amazing economy and a great deal of humor. The set by Scott Pask is a study in sensationalism put over with stark simplicity. Sheltering Herb and his piano is a huge sparkling leaf that changes colors with the lights, while Kiki sits and/or climbs on a tree stump that looks like it was once hit by lightning. With Kiki aboard, that means it's been struck twice!
Herb (Kenny Mellman) is a fascinating second banana who plays the piano for Kiki (Justin Bond). Herb doesn't talk much but he's an integral part of the act both musically and emotionally. One simply can't imagine Kiki without him. And Kiki, herself, is a creation of genius; she is all show biz chutzpah combined with a thousand hurts. How to best describe her? Carol Channing on acid? Together, they're magic. Black magic, maybe, but magic nonetheless. They're outrageous, decidedly downtown, but maybe they'll get away with being midtown for the better part of four weeks. That, of course, will be up to you.
Barbara and Scott