BootLeg Betty

Review: Bruce Vilanch At 54 Below

New York Post
Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
June 13, 2013

4-27-2013 3-54-35 AM

Popping up on the 54 Below stage wearing a T shirt with the message about “Adele,” Bruce Vilanch launched into “Hey, Don’t Look At Me” from Follies with special lyrics about his appearance at his old stomping ground, the basement room of 54 Below. Without a break, Vilanch jumped into “Gee But It’s Good To Be Here” perfectly impersonating Ethel Merman’s high note! His accompanist was the talented Brian Nash who plays for the late open mic show at 54 Below every Monday night at 11:30 PM.

Most of Vilanch’s show was funny stories from his writing experiences on shows including the Oscars, his appearances on Hollywood Squares, and his writing for several beauty pageants. He described how one could get to the major beauty pageants by starting small, taking a local contest first, then moving up to regional, then to state, and ultimately one of the big international contests, especially if you were spotted by professional trainers “Guy and Rex.” Their training method was hysterical, especially when they got to a Miss Universe contest in high altitude Peru. Because there was a sumo wrestler shaped contestant, when she descended the staircase she would knock over all the other contestants! His job was to write the questions and answers for the contestants and they always wanted some special disease to talk about. The response of the girl contestant who blew her line was hysterically funny.

He also did a riff on Pia Zadora who lives in Las Vegas and has just been charged with assaulting her fifth husband, a cop, with his pistol! One of Vilanch’s first jobs was to write an act for her that her rich husband could put in his Las Vegas hotels. He told everyone to watch her movie “Santa Claus and the Martians” for a special Christmas treat. Marvin Hamlisch was also hired and she was to open for George Burns who was 100 years old at the time. Vilanch grew up worshiping Burns and was able to suggest old jokes for his shows which Burns remembered instantly! When Burns saw Zadora in rehearsal, he said it was the worst act he had ever seen! And he had been seeing bad acts for 100 years! Zadora’s husband paid other headliners to come and see her act.

Vilanch’s best stories, which I will not fully disclose here, were about Steve Martin when he was hosting the Oscars and not wanting to do a specific joke which dealt with his fly on camera. The censor lady had approved it and insisted it be done. At the last minute, Martin refused to do it and the Stage Manager announced the cutting of the joke which was broadcast to all the audience! There was also a very funny story about Dolly Parton singing the song she wrote for “Beethoven’s Fifth” with the two dogs at her feet. Suddenly one of the dogs took a big dump so they cut to the upper part of Parton’s torso while a stage manager swept off the droppings. However, Parton was wearing a transparent top and the waist up shot showed her naked big breasts and nipples driving the censor wild. So they cut to her face and as Parton smelled what had happened her mascara started dripping! Vilanch was back stage with Deborah Kerr who was to get the special career award. Vilanch explained that everyone who gets this award usually dies a few months later, which is why Doris Day has always turned it down. He had the job of taking Ms. Kerr, in a blackout, to a platform where she was to appear after Parton’s number. Kerr’s reaction to the smell was priceless!

He also regaled us with the stories of the Lucas repressed Stars Wars Holiday Special, done to promote the next sequel. It was to star the Chewbaca family, who spoke in that language, and featured all kinds of name guest stars including Art Carney, Diahann Carroll, and Bea Arthur. Bea Arthur was to be featured in the nightclub scene and chose to sing “The Alabama Song.” The costumes on the extras were left over unfinished costumes that kept melting. Most of them looked like Vaginas. And on her last note, Arthur knocked over the vagina on her shoulder! Sometimes you will find that clip on you tube!

All in all, there was not a dull or unfunny moment in Vilanch’s act.
He repeats Friday, June 14 at 11 PM. Reservations are a must! Given his popularity with Broadway community he’ll probably sell out.

Maitre D’ & Reservations: (646) 476-3551
To purchase tickets visit TicketWeb.com or call (866) 468-7619

54 Below – 254 W 54th St, Cellar – New York, NY 10019

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