arts 08.7.06

Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me [Review]

"Doing a Broadway show is never easy, but if you cast it properly, someone in the chorus is."


We report this morning with deep shame that that line, along with much else in the new comedy musical "Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me," made us laugh out loud along with the rest of Friday night's preview audience at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater.

There's a certain irony to the fact that this cheerfully vulgar revue is at the Jacobs, since the late Mr. Jacobs, one-half of the long-running 'Shuberts' producing team, was not what you'd call a dance-on-the-bar type of guy (that sort of thing is best left for the Nederlanders). Mr. Short makes at least a couple of Jacobean references right off the bat and there's plenty of other insider-y catnip for the Broadway community to follow: sketches include parodies of Tommy Tune as a towering, molasses-dipped tyrant, a twitching myocardial infarction better known as Bob Fosse, and hat-tips to "Wicked," "Company," "Dreamgirls," "Gypsy," "Godspell," as well as a generous dose of "Hellzapoppin'."

The show also takes a page from "Little Me," the musical biography of Belle Poitrine, based on the Patrick Dennis novel. Ms. Poitrine, you might recall, never existed except as a larger-than-life figment of Mr. Dennis' imagination. In this case, Mr. Short readily acknowledges he's had a lot of success and happiness in his life, which isn't a promising recipe for great drama. So, with his aide-de-camp, composer Marc Shaiman, they set out to tell a version of Short's life story, without much in the way of fidelity to facts (Robert Blake, he maintains, was the producer's first choice for the show). The imaginative memoir, so much discussed these days, lends the proceedings an ironic framework that feels right for Mr. Short's style of humor and Daily Show-primed audiences.

Don't let that fool you. Underneath its PoMo sheen lies a wholly conventional Borscht Belt heart. From the occasional up-to-the minute reference (Castro's health), the show flips through a cavalcade of shtick, going back in time from Botox and Kabbalah, to prenups, Celine Dion, Joan Rivers, to Liza Minnelli and Warhol, to Judy Garland, until you land at the inevitable hospital sketch, complete with nurse (guess which part of her anatomy is the gag?) It's time spent with easy and overly familiar marks that we would rather spend with Mr. Short's off-the-wall characters.

And not all the sketches, songs, or jokes work — some, like the sketch of Short's father, hit with a thud. You can argue that's par for the course for this type of entertainment, where if you don't like one gag, another will be along in about three rat-a-tat beats. (And some of the chaff may get edited out before the official opening on August 17th).

That the show is such a funny, shameless good time anyway is thanks to Mr. Short himself. Those of us who've been fans since his SCTV days consider many of his characters — Jackie Rodgers, Jr. and Ed Grimley, in particular — old friends. Grimley, alas, only makes a split-second appearance, but Jackie Rodgers, if you believe the story line (and why should you?), was Short's childhood alter ego, welcoming famous guests into his bedroom sound stage. As such, he's part of a section of the show that allows the comedian to deliver hilariously precise impersonations of Katharine Hepburn, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Then there's that oleaginous ball of passive-aggressive fawning, Jiminy Glick, a talk show host in the Merv mold, who has such trouble determining whether he most naturally speaks in a high childish burble or in a creepy low coo. Glick treats every bit of fatuous guest chat with equal lip-service sincerity, even if he rarely knows more than the first thing about his interviewee or what they're talking about. What makes Glick such a great comic creation is that he's torn between his professional need to make nice and his congenital inclination to lash out. He gets a prominent place in the proceedings and makes the most of it.

Short surrounds himself with talented Broadway performers: Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong, Nicole Parker, and Capathia Jenkins as well as Mr. Shaiman. It's always a pleasure to watch Mr. Ashmanskas perform and he scores throughout the evening. Ms. Jenkins gets an 11 o'clock number about 11 o'clock numbers and the Great White Way's frequent strategy, as the refrain has it, to "let a big black lady stop the show." She does.

Mr. Shaiman, along with co-lyricist Scott Wittman, provides an agreeable score of pastiche and pasties — bouncy, one-joke tunes that keep the show's motor running. It's Mr. Short's comic genius that gives it the gas and lights the match at the same time. Even if we would have liked more of his edgy side, as Mr. Short correctly points out, "My rock bottom is still your wildest dream."


recent entries

What the World Needs

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth

See all articles in ARTS

Get a daily dose of MUG
right in your Inbox.