A history of the world in 75 minutes and working-class "laymanese" is the gist, and jest, of Colin Quinn's Long Story Short, which opened Nov. 9 at the Helen Hayes Theatre for a limited two-month "legit-gig."
His blue-collar world-view squeezes the globe into a rowdy, rinky-dink bar at 3:30 in the morning, roiling with conflicts that have been reduced to the lowest common (but human) denominator. What's frightening is, it's not only funny — it makes sense.
That's because Quinn brings the truths of mankind's progress home in a crazy crisscross of then and now. Is Antigone's Olympic bawling over her unburied bro so different from Snooki's crying jag over a lost cell phone, really? Isn't the brawn-vs.-brain contest that kept ancient Greeks and Romans at each other's throats still here when a girl must pick between a Harley biker and a Google nerd?
Quinn relates the story of visiting a quarrelsome aunt in the hospital. With her dying breath, she ordered the curtain divider drawn so her roommate and family couldn't see her television. If we can't share a hospital room, what chance has the Gaza Strip?
And who is the adroit, inventive, surefooted director who helped Quinn negotiate these slippery slopes of latter-day logic being applied to antiquity? Merely the proven master of something-out-of-nothing — Jerry Seinfield, enjoying what seems to a lifetime retirement from television but still generous enough to assist an old friend and fellow stand-up in standing up to the standards of Broadway.
"In real life, doesn't he belong doing something like that?" he rhetorically wondered aloud to a gang of reporters who had huddled around him at the after-party held two blocks from the theatre in the lush, black-walled lobby of the Royalton Hotel. "This was much more than just trying to do a comedy set where you would incorporate these things," Seinfeld pointed out. "You know, he needs to elevate because this guy [has] something going on. Stand-up isn't really quite right for him.
"I am so proud of him, so proud of him. And I know he's proud. He belongs in this kind of environment. The only thing I really did is I told him to do a show like this instead of a regular stand-up. That was the big thing I did. He did all the work. About a week after our talk, he said, 'I think I came up with an idea for a show that I've been working on.' 'Really?' I said. He said, 'Yeah.' And I go, 'I guess I'm directing it.'"
[flipbook] Opening night was a cheering section for Colin converts, but it rattled Herr Director. "Well, we've had good audiences for a while, but this was a big occasion, and that made me nervous. I was a little nervous. It took a lot to just sit there, y'know. I kinda wanted to — it was hard to sit. I'm not really a director. I was just sitting there.
"It's harder to direct [than to perform] because it's hard to sit there. He was great to direct because he has so many skills you can do a lot of things…"
For the record, Seinfeld is making his Broadway debut — and, "No!, he never thought he'd make it as a director. Quinn hooted, clearly amused, at his director's emphatic retort. "It was not his plan," the comedian dryly understated.
So exactly what was Seinfeld's directorial take on the show? "We just talk about what's funny, and, if we both agreed it's funny, then it goes in the show." Simple.
He also helped Quinn with a little rewriting on the show since its tryout gig at 45 Bleecker in the East Village last August: "Well, it's just playing with the stuff, y'know — little things here and there."
And, no again, Seinfeld has no immediate plans to do any acting on Broadway, prompting Quinn to pipe up with "How about Jerry taking over for Al in Merchant of Venice?" directly across 44th from the Hayes at the Broadhurst.
The Helen Hayes Theatre, Broadway's most intimate and smallest (nee The Little Theatre), is a good room for Quinn. He debuted in it, putting in 22 performances of Colin Quinn—An Irish Wake there in 1998. Now, he's back with a worldwide edition of the "Weekend Update" that he used to anchor on "Saturday Night Live."
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Although he's coming from a strong Brooklyn base — and that's really what makes it funny — he's all over the map with lightning-fast dialects and accents. "I don't know how many," he admits. "I don't even count them… I'm obsessed with ethnicity." Although Seinfeld tended to downplay his contribution, the chronically creative David Gallo who did the scenic and production design gave the fledgling director a lot of points for his imaginative input. "The way that it really started was that, initially, we were just to do a couple of bits of animation," he said, "but Jerry wanted to see if we could take things a little further — to see if it would be funny — and, if Jerry wants to see if something is funny, you find out. It started out very simple, and it got more and more complex, culminating with Jerry's idea of flying [around Manhattan and zooming into] the Helen Hayes Theatre at the end. That was a ridiculous amount of work, but I think it really pays off. The audience seems to really appreciate it.
"We did the entire thing in about four weeks. Top to bottom, it took five weeks. It's all 3-D visual animation — a tremendous amount of animation."
His set consisted of a stage full of huge stones, with a throne for Quinn to occasionally sit down to do his stand-up. "We were looking for something that felt timeless, like a seat where all of human history can be witnessed from, so there was something very classical. We went for a sense of the Greek amphitheatre and allowed it to flow from that and let the projections to take us from place to place."
Only one member of Seinfeld's celebrated sitcom clan was recruited for opening-night glitter: the scattered and impressible Kramer — Michael Richards, who arrived brandishing a beautiful fiancée, Beth Skipp — but the real-life issue of George Costanza's dad (Jerry Stiller) also lent luster: Ben Stiller.
Young Stiller is bracing for his Broadway comeback this spring, with Edie Falco, in a revival of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves. That just happens to be his only other Main Stem credit: He debuted in the play at age 20 as Ronnie Shaughnessy, and now he will be playing Ronnie's 46-year-old father, Artie. "My mom [Anne Meara] was in the original New York cast Off-Broadway in 1971, so this play has been in our family for a long, long time." At present, Stiller is all over New York, lensing a film caper, "Tower Heist," with Brett Ratner of the "Rush Hour" films directing and Eddie Murphy.
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
He met, and huddled with, a new co-star at the party: Matthew Broderick. "I start shooting next week," Broderick said. "I play a tenant in a building, and Ben's the concierge, and we rob the building together. I think I'm allowed to say that. I hope I am." (With a title like "Tower Heist," I suspect you're good, Matthew.)
Bobby Cannavale arrived very jazzed after his second day of rehearsing Bells Are Ringing for Encores! — his first musical. "I'm singing, like, three lines. I'm not there for singing, y'know. [He's there to play the mannered Brandoesque actor — a neat fit, that.] It's great because I'm a huge musical fan, so I was honored to be asked. Kathleen [Marshall] called and asked me, and I said yes."
On another musical note was Michael Longoria, who figured, "Who better to see in a one-man show than Colin? He keeps you entertained and on your toes."
The original Joey of Jersey Boys, Longoria "is on the road doing a lot of concert work with some of the original guys from Jersey Boys. We kinda have our own '60s act. We take the sound we found doing The Four Seasons in Jersey Boys on Broadway and then adapt it to different group of the '60s."
A whole clown car of comics and comediennes unloaded at the Helen Hayes, starting with The Queen Mother herself, Joan Rivers. For her, it was revisiting the scene of her Tony-nominated triumph in Sally Marr . . . and her escorts.
Others wore their Quinn Friend button in plain sight. Kathy Griffin, just for instance: "Colin Quinn was there the very first night I ever tried stand-up in a coffee house in L.A. Of course, I bombed — and he said, 'You're on to something.' I'm not a joke teller. I tell these stories. And he said, 'Stick with it.' He was so encouraging to me, and I never forgot that. Also, for a male comedian to be so supportive of a female is kind of unusual. That's what I love about Jerry Seinfield, too. Jerry was the first A-lister I made fun of who actually thought it was funny and took the joke and understood it was a joke. So I'm so thrilled that these two guys are together for this."
Jamie deRoy, who produces shows between wisecracks, has been following Quinn's work in comedy clubs for years — like a lost science — and caught his summer tryout Off-Broadway. "I loved it, but I think this is even better," the comedienne reported. "It's just really smart and funny. He hits on so many moments that ring true — things you never thought of until he verbalized them — and they are so true. I think that Colin does very intelligent, very clever comedy."
With a happy face that shouts "I'm a comedian," Jeffrey Ross indeed is — and also a longtime Quinn fan. "I just love Colin in every form and way. My first time at Caroline's was when he was hosting 'The Caroline's Comedy Hour.' He introduced me for my first time on TV. Since then, we've been all over the world together, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Colin does a lot for the troops, and he's a great guy."
Mario Cantone grabbed a chorus of that: "I adore him. I've known him for years. We used to sleep in the same bed together. Nothing ever happened because I wasn't attracted to him. I'm so happy he made it to Broadway. He deserves it. He's brilliant. He's one of my closest friends since the late '80s, and I'm happy for him."
A spiffily turned-out Regis Philbin led the night's big parade of celebs with wife Joy, followed by ex-Housewife from New Jersey Danielle Staub with Sam Jemal, "Marriage Ref" host Tom Papa, Emmy winner Lorraine Bracco, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Tom Kitt, Tony winners Jim Norton and Joe DiPietro and the always-up-for-a-good-laugh Tovah Feldshuh.
The Royalton offered a light repast for the first-nighters — plus a choice of three specialty drinks. One consisted of Ciroc vodka, lemon juice, muddled raspberries and blackberries, with just a splash of soda. It was called a Long Story Shot.