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What's New on the Rialto

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told

by Jack Sugrue

If there's a funnier playwright working on or off-Broadway than Paul Rudnick, I can't imagine who it might be. In his previous outings, such as Jeffrey and I Hate Hamlet, Mr. Rudnick has proven to be a master of "conversational comedy". Unlike other, more mainstream comedy playwrights, such as Neil Simon, there's little "schtick" to Mr. Rudnick's characters. They tend to say the kinds of witty, urbane and scathingly wicked things that we all realize we should have said two days after our own conversations.

Whenever a contemporary author tackles a "historical" subject, there are bound to be some ripples in the pond. And if an author known for "gay-themed" pieces decides to turn his sites on the Bible, those ripples often turn into tidal waves. One has only to think back to the controversy over Terrance McNally's Corpus Christi to realize that the "religious right" stills holds some sway over the creative arts.

Surprisingly, little of this controversy spilled over onto The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told although, God knows, it's not the kind of play that Catholic high schools will be producing in the coming years (unless RuPaul is elected Pope). Full frontal male nudity, large-breasted topless women giving birth in an avalanche of profanity, the birth of Christ interrupted by a cellular call; all this and more would seem to invite a picket-line of Baptists, nuns and North Carolina republicans. Instead, Mr. Rudnick's charming, disarming and utterly hysterical retelling of the story of Creation has aroused only mild concern, although at the end of the first act, several people sitting behind me commented that the entire audience, weak with laughter, was no doubt going to Hell.

The Most Fabulous Story opens with the creation of Heaven and Earth, directed not by a Divine Power but rather by a monotone stage manager, mechanically cueing the dawn of time like most of us order waffles at IHOP. Into this New World bounds Adam - enthusiastic, wide-eyed and queer. Luckily, he meets Steve. Together they discover the pleasures of conversation, of touching, of kissing, yada, yada, yada. But Adam is curious about other things, too. And when he reaches out to what lies beyond the Garden, he and Steve find themselves cast out. Unfortunately, Adam's actions also cause the eviction of Jane and Mabel, the lesbian couple from the other side of the Garden.

For the rest of the First Act, these four characters hopscotch through the Old Testament, meeting up with Noah and the Ark (which features a leather bar tended by a horny rhino), Moses, a very queenie Pharaoh and, ultimately, straight people. Throughout this time, each character is searching for something to believe in: sometimes God, sometimes religion, and sometimes one another.

Act Two unfolds in the Present: on Christmas Eve in the apartment of Adam and Steve as they await the arrival of Mable and Jane for a holiday party. Having traversed the centuries, now these two couples must deal with the issues of faith in today's world. Each is dealing with crises that they share and that they keep private. Each needs the other, and still grasps for a higher power to help them through.

While this might sound quite dour, it is Mr. Rudnick's gift to buoy the production with humor, joy and energy. And he is more than aided by an astoundingly talented cast. Alan Tudyk tackles the role of Adam with a boy-like wonder at everything new and a childlike fear of what he has unleashed. We see the new world through his eyes, and he makes the journey enchanting. Likewise, Jay Goede, in the less rewarding role of Steve, has less naiveté to play from and more issues to confront. He does so without alienating the audience - no small feat. (And the bodies on these guys during the nude scene...yikes!) As Jane, the aggressive partner of Mabel, Becky Ann Baker gives a forceful, hysterically compelling performance. Her tour-de-force comes during the Second Act in a semi-nude monologue (trust me, you'll know it when you see it). And Kathryn Meisle, as the sweet, angelic Mabel, is well, sweet and angelic.

The "supporting" cast, doing extra duty by playing a variety of characters throughout the performance, is wonderful. Special attention needs to be paid the marvelously droll Peter Bartlett, whose turns as the "swishy" Pharaoh and, in the Second Act, Trey Pomfret, are absolute gold. Mr. Bartlett has comic timing to die for, and wrings every laugh out of his very funny roles.

Truth to tell, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told isn't for everyone. Almost any comedy with religious overtones is bound to step on somebody's toes. However, should you want sparkling wit and feel safe in assuming that even the Creator can laugh at his Creations when they are presented in this charming a fashion, then I suggest you get to the Minetta Lane Theatre as quickly as possible.

Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane. Tuesday through Friday at 8 P.M., Saturdays at 7 and 10 P.M., Sundays at 3 and 7 P.M. Tickets $35 - $47.50.

Tidbits: Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 opens this Thursday as part of the Encore series at City Center. In 1936 the musical starred Bob Hope, Eve Arden, Fanny Brice and Josephine Baker and while most garnered good reviews Baker was singled out by Brooks Atkinson: "Her singing is only a squeak in the dark and her dancing is only the pain of an artist." The present cast stars Christine Ebersole, Ruthie Henshall, Howard McGillan, Stephanie Pope, Mary Testa, Peter Scolari and Karen Ziemba among others. 6 performances only of this Ira Gerswhin tuner which is 1 more than the original 1936 run.

Malachy McCourt joins the cast of A Couple of Blaguards up at the Triad Theatre on W. 72nd Street. He and brother Frank (Angela's Ashes) wrote this comedy.

Andrew Lloyd Webber turns 51 on Monday, the same day the Variety Ad appears for the Michael Crawford Phantom Movie Campaign. Now, there's a birthday greeting!

Last chance to catch Titanic at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The 5 time Tony Winning musical closes after 9 more performances before it sets sail to ports of call in Seattle, Chicago, Boston and 46 other cities through the fall of 2000. There will be international productions in Japan, Holland, England, Germany and Australia. Sail on Titanic!

The Oliver Award winning Best Play, The Weir, previews this Tuesday at the Walter Kerr Theatre. "Sheer Theatrical Magic" says the London Daily Telegraph.

You're A Good Man Charlie Brown plays 3 performances on Saturdays with the first performance at 11 AM, then again at 3:30 PM and finally at 8 PM. It's at the Ambassador Theatre. Dark, Mondays and Tuesdays. $20.00 student rush tix available at Box Office.

Did I hear right? Baayork Lee, an original castmember from 1975's A Chorus Line, and long associated with directing road companies since, is thinking about bringing the musical back to Broadway?

Join us in our newest section on Talkin' Broadway - CABARET where we chat with MAC Award nominee Tom Andersen. You'll also be able to hear in Real Audio Tom's amazing version of "Storybook" from The Scarlet Pimpernel. MAC Awards are April 5th.

See you Thursday!

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