Sometimes, sitting poolside high on a Beverly hill, Martin Short wonders - maybe, he even worries - where he went wrong: Almost 30 years of happily-ever-aftering with the same woman. Three happy, well-adjusted kids, two in college and one finishing up high school. A career that zigzags for fun, profit and plenty of prizes between mediums.
That's okay for some people - for some humdrum people - but it does not a Broadway musical make, not in this day and age. It's a tad too relentlessly one-noted, too insistently smiley-faced for its own good, especially to the modern herd of wanna-know-it-alls who tune in to "Access Hollywood" and other abscess excesses.
Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, arriving Aug. 17 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, is the rattle of a simple man, rattling supposed skeletons from the family closet in order to compete in today's supermarketplace where the lives (or lies) of celebrities are sliced and diced in ugly tabloid headlines and served up raw and blood-red at the checkout counter.
"The show is a satire of modern-day celebrity, where entertaining isn't enough," fesses up the diminutive one. "Today you have to flash a mug shot, open a vein and bleed a little for the nice people. We have to see the warts we're conditioned to getting from reality TV. And that creates a predicament for anyone who doesn't have that kind of angst." Namely, himself. He admits, almost sheepishly, he can't go there without a compass - or, rather, without a poetic license to kill (in a vaudeville sense of the word) so throughout Act I, there is an elderly heckler in the audience egging him on, goading him from one grotesque revelation to another. "'Gimme more dirt, gimme more dirt,' she keeps saying. I tell her I don't have any. 'Well, then, make it up, baby, make it up.' So then you see me go into a fictitious drug-and-alcohol decline, ending up in rehab, making a confessional song to the audience called '12-Step Pappy.'"
Yes, as a matter of fact, the (tall) tale of his life is accompanied by songs, composed by Marc Shaiman, who co-wrote the lyrics with the show's director, Scott Wittman - the first professional outing for these two since their Tony-winning Hairspray. "They did the songs, I did the script," says Short, "with assistance from Daniel Goldfarb. Under the guise of a one-man show, it's a full musical."
Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me is the most wildly overpopulated one-man show since - well, since Well, which also tipped the scales at an even half-dozen. In addition to Shaiman, who serves as an onstage pianist and occasional sketch partner, Short has plucked himself quite a quality quartet of supporting players: Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong, Capathia Jenkins and Nicole Parker.
Ashmanskas plays a stilt-ted Tommy Tune (i.e., on stilts) as well as a cigarette-puffing Bob Fosse (whose cardiac arrest is mistaken for choreography); Jenkins stops the show with a showstopper called "Stop the Show" that demonstrates how big black ladies can really go to town on a power number; Birdsong and Parker carve up Ellen DeGeneres, Celine Dion, Judy Garland, a baby-dropping Britney Spears, Joan Rivers and Paula Abdul.
"The treat of this show is how brilliant the cast is," says Short. "That's the way I like it, too. I've never worked as a standup. I come from an ensemble background where you can get the biggest laugh reacting to someone else."
In point of fact, Short tumbled into prominence out of the Toronto company of Godspell (Class of '72, which included Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy and Victor Garber as well as Short's future wife, Nancy Dolman, and sister-in-law, Andrea Martin). There's a passing nod to this in the show via a tribal-musical ribbing called "Stepbrother De Jesus."
But best not expect much in the way of unvarnished truth here. Expect an abundance of scattershooting skit-work - the sort they don't do anymore, the sort Short cut his artistic teeth on (via "SCTV" and "Saturday Night Live"). Ed Grimley, the clenched-jaw, pointy-haired nerd, gets in a cameo shot here, as does the "God of show business" (ancient songsmith Irving Cohen); Liz & Dick, swapping ribald limericks; a plate-spinning Katharine Hepburn; and best of all - fresh from La La Wood - Jiminy Glick, the creepy, chubby, clueless, celebrity-fawning culture critic.
Dressed up in his best fat suit, smiling his wide demented smile, Glick personifies the society Short is spoofing. "Jiminy could be any profession," the actor contends. "He's someone who's not qualified to do what he's doing. Worse, he's not really interested in people. As long as America is obsessed with the shallowness of show business, there's room for Jiminy." . . . And for Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.