PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me: Grist for the Glick Mill
Mister D: Jiminy Glick’s first victim was not Bette Midler, but Jerry Seinfeld. Who knows when Bette will show up for her turn! 🙂
By Harry Haun
August 18, 2006
Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Goldie Hawn, Nathan Lane, Tina Fey, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks, Jason Sudeikis, Larry David, Chris Elliot, Kristen Johnstonâ€”The American Comedy Hall of Fame seemed to have convened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre Aug. 17 for the opening of Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.
Then there was the Canadian contingentâ€”Letterman band-leader Paul Shaffer, Tony-winner Andrea Martin and character comic Eugene Levy, all of whom had known Short since 1972 they were all tadpole disciples together in the Toronto company of Godspell .
These were enough to send Jiminy Glick over the moon with giddy anticipation. Who, of this distinguished assemblage, would the clueless celebrity interrogator drag on stage and subject to his own highly eccentric line of nonsensical pneumatic drilling (â€œIf Lincoln were alive today, would he be pleased with his tunnel?â€ or, perchance, â€œWhere were you when the Queen had Diana killed?â€). The whole house was fraught with knotted dread.
And there were back-up red herrings by the bushelful, likewise twitching nervously till a victim could be determined for glib Mr. Glick: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Kurt Russell, Bernadette Peters (Shortâ€™s Goodbye Girl), Alec Baldwin, Lily Rabe, Michael McGrath (Shortâ€™s talk-show sidekick and Little Me understudy, enjoying â€œPatsyâ€™s Night Offâ€ from Spamalot), Rita Wilson (not enjoying her night off from Chicago when her gown snap breaks on entering the theatreâ€”â€œfirst time Iâ€™ve worn it!â€), Lauren Bacall, Phyllis Newman, Legally Blonde director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell with his dance partner from Michael Bennett days, Jodi Muccio, CBSâ€™s Harry Smith dressing up the press-receiving line, Michael Feinstein (who actually volunteered for the Glick once-over), Matthew Morrison of Hairspray and The Light in the Piazza, Christine Ebersole whoâ€™s bound for the Broadway Grey Gardens Nov. 2 and Craig Bierko.
I wonâ€™t prolong the suspense: Seinfeld was the audience sacrifice, plucked from his aisle seat and escorted to the stage. He took it like an Everyman, with a jaunty surrender that didnâ€™t rule out a few jabs of his own, but mostly he wryly let the tacky questions roll by.
â€œSo when did your series get canceled?â€ asked Glick with an airy abandon Dame Edna might have admired. Seinfeld grinned and said he was a family man now and moved to a different drummer. â€œIâ€™ve tried to relax and go to shows, but it hasnâ€™t worked out.â€
Fast, funny, frenetic, one perpetual bounce off the rubber-room walls, Glick may well be Shortâ€™s most inspired comic creation (I prefer the one he took no screen credit for at all: Kevin Baconâ€™s coked-out-of-his-gord, Hollywood power agent in “The Big Picture” of 1989)â€”but both are done in double-ditz italics. Short is the comedy worldâ€™s fast ball, and he seems to be in there pitching constantly in this show of his own design. Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me purports to be the story of his life, or at least the â€œHard Copyâ€ rendition. Daniel Goldfarb shares book credit, with additional material by Alan Zweibel, who wrote Bunny Bunny and 700 Sundaysâ€”oh, and itâ€™s an original musical, too (the second Broadway score from composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman).
Counting his Tony-nominated turn in The Goodbye Girl and his Tony-winning turn in Little Me, this is Shortâ€™s third Broadway outing. â€œFourth!,â€ he was fast to correct soon after he arrived at Tavern on the Green for some glad-handing R&R. â€œI count Encores!â€™â€
As well he should. In 1997, for five performances (March 20-23), he headed up a superb revival of Promises, Promises that should have run, not walked, direct to Broadway. Kerry Oâ€™Malley, Terrence Mann, Eugene Levy, Samuel E. Wright, Dick Latessa, Joe Grifasi and the brilliant brittle Christine Baranski were in fine form as well. But his kids were in school in Los Angeles at the time, and that effectively scuttled the works.
Which just goes to show you the kind of pinhead weâ€™re dealing with hereâ€”the kind who puts home and hearth ahead of fame and glory. The Happiest Millionaire has been done as a musical, and not very excitingly, so Short & Co. have opted to round off his corners with flamboyant frictions (i.e., lie). By any name, Fame Becomes Me is Tall Tales of a Short Life, and it ticks off in take-off previous one-person shows (Crystalâ€™s, Dame Ednaâ€™s, Stritchâ€™sâ€”Tony winners all, by the way, so heâ€™s ribbing the best of the breed).
The format is a throwback to the anything-goes scatter-gun sketches practiced in the comedy colleges where Short learned his stuffâ€”â€SCTVâ€ and â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€â€”and even some of his old ghosts created in those early days prance and shuffle by on stage here (Ed Grimley, the pointy-haired nerd, and Irving Cohen, the crusty old songsmith).
â€œItâ€™s easier not to be a writer,â€ Short can now admit. â€œBefore, if something wasnâ€™t working, you could go to Angusâ€™ and have a beer and, â€˜Oh, God! I hope they figure it out.â€™ You canâ€™t do that when youâ€™re one of the writers. You have to figure it out.â€
One of the things he figured out was to cut the intermissionâ€”never mind the much-needed breather it would give him doing this incredible comic marathon. â€œWe did a workshop last November, and it was always â€˜Should it be one act or two?â€™ We started of with two acts, but most of us thought it should be one act, and thatâ€™s what it eventually became.â€
So when does he get a chance to rest? One moment is while he is being padded up for his roly-poly Glick backstage and the supporting cast of his â€œone-man showâ€ is running around the theatre singing and soliciting (â€œWould Ya Like to Star in Our Show?â€). â€œI drink my Gatorade, and I sit there. When I do changes, I just sorta Zen out.â€
He downplayed the obviously physical demands of the show, but it is a pretty conspicuous workout any way you look at it. One producer said it was especially difficult for him during the recent heat crisis when its 89 degrees backstageâ€”but he trouped on.
â€œEight shows a week, and heâ€™s 56,â€ Zweibel said, turning the possibilities over in his head, then managed a morose smile. â€œWeâ€™ll see.â€ Cavalier black-comedy, a specialty.
He also enjoys working with friends. â€œI had as much fun with this as Iâ€™ve had with anything,â€ he admitted. â€œItâ€™s fun when itâ€™s people you like. Itâ€™s chemistry. Itâ€™s social.â€
A supporting cast of five (counting Shaiman at the piano) precedes Short on stage singing the virtues of one-person show. During the course of the show, each gets a spot to shine.
Mary Birdsong and Nicole Parker serve up a host of jokey impersonations in their Broadway debutsâ€” Ellen DeGeneres, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Britney Spears, Celine Dionâ€”but, arguably, their wickedest is done in tandem: Birdsong gives Jodie Foster the voice of sheer slate, and Parker gives Renee Zellweger a distorted smirk.
â€œA lot of the characters we did just came about haphazardly. Like, â€˜we need somebody to play off of Renee here.â€™ It was going to be Salma Hayek for a second. Iâ€™d never done Salma Hayek so I said, â€˜Oh, we can drum up something for this.â€™ You throw it up there, and you see what sticks. We knew we wanted to do Renee presenting this award and we needed somebody to be at her side so I said, â€˜Letâ€™s try this,â€™ and it just came alive, in a fun way. Marty sets the tone. The tone is irreverent, and anything is game. Nobodyâ€™s off limits. No subjects are off limit. It just makes everything easy because we can all relax.
â€œJoan Rivers was not originally in the script. So much of the bits and the character stuff were written for Nicole and me, were written for Brooks Ashmanskas around his talents. Heâ€™s an amazing tap dancer so they wanted to do something that way. And I feel thatâ€™s such a rarity in this day and age. I think itâ€™s an unusual show for Broadway, and I think it will appeal to a lot of people who donâ€™t think they necessarily like musical theatre. Itâ€™s fun to do shows like this and know youâ€™re attracting a whole new group of people to the theatre. My little sister is a total convert. Sheâ€™s like a rock â€˜nâ€™ roll metal head, and she now goes to the theatre all the time just from having had this particular exposure.â€
Capathia Jenkins is a sparingly, and smartly, used member of the ensemble: â€œI sing the opening number with the rest the cast. I do the nurse scene with Jiminy Glick. And then I stop the show.â€ Simple as one two three. Three is a gospel-flavored roof-raiser called â€œStop the Show,â€ in which she socks across one particular line of choice Wittman wit: â€œsomething that Stephen Sondheim doesnâ€™t know: Let the big black lady stop the show.â€
Yes, she has heard from The Sisterhood: â€œI got a great fruit basket from Felicia Fields , who plays Sofia in The Color Purple. She told me, â€˜Knock â€˜em dead. Go get â€˜em.â€™â€
Jenkins also sang the praises of her peerless leader. â€œMartin Short is incredible. He is so generous and kind. He gives me the 11 oâ€™clock number. Now, that’s generous.â€
Ashmanskas insisted fun is happening on both sides of the footlights. â€œHeâ€™s a wild man. It keeps you on your toes and in the moment. Well, you have to be in the moment to make it funny. You have to be, somewhat, honest. This is literally, the most fun Iâ€™ve ever had.â€
Director-lyricist Wittman departs Sunday for Toronto for the filming of his and Shaimanâ€™s first Broadway musical, Hairspray. The next day, in New York, is a workshop on their third Broadway musical, Catch Me If You Can, based on the Steven Spielberg thriller. Jack Oâ€™Brien will direct, and Jerry Mitchell will choreograph. Nathan Lane will have the Tom Hanks role.
â€œWeâ€™re written a lot of new Hairspray songs,â€ said Shaiman, â€œbut I think three will wind up being in the movie. Itâ€™s just like the play. You write a lot of things, and you realize, â€˜No, thatâ€™s not quite right,â€™ or â€˜Oh, we didnâ€™t quite need that.â€™ The usual spots youâ€™d imagine. We gave Link a more energetic rock and roll number. In the original movie it was a kind of iconic moment where they all did the Madison and we recreated that in the musicalâ€”but that was one thing we realized we didnâ€™t need to repeat that because they did it so great in the movie. So we created a whole new song and kind of dance for that moment that Link sings and Tracy dances. Also, Tracy now has her own ballad.â€
For the Short show, Shaiman and Wittman went with the skit-and-run flow. â€œThat was our plan. Sometimes, Marty would say, â€˜Oh, God! Thatâ€™s such a great song. Write another verse.â€™ And Iâ€™d say, â€˜No. Nothing more than 45 seconds.â€™ Thereâ€™s only one song that goes on for three verses, and the truth is we should have cut it to two, but I wonâ€™t say what it is. There are probably 20 songs now [Marty says 18], and we probably wrote 40.â€