Who Was the Surprise Guest at Oh, Hello’s Opening Night?

Opening Night   Who Was the Surprise Guest at Oh, Hello’s Opening Night?
 
Nick Kroll and John Mulaney talk about their starry night opening on Broadway, their oh-so-fitting surprise guest and leaving audiences charmed, we’re sure.
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Bruce Glikas/Playbill

By any other name, Oh, Hello on Broadway, which opened Oct. 10 at the Lyceum Theatre, might rightly be called A Coupla Old Coots Standing Around Talking.

Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland are a pair of 70-something Upper West Siders—as well as the alta-kocher alter egos of Nick Kroll, 38, and John Mulaney, 34, respectively fugitive wits and writers from Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live.

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Oh, Hello Opening Night Bruce Glikas/Playbill

Despite their Social Security status, Faizon and St. Geegland were born a little more than a decade ago in the Strand Bookstore when Kroll and Mulaney observed two crabby geezers in blazers and turtlenecks purchasing separate copies of Alan Alda’s book, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. The kibitzing-and-kvetching interplay so amused the comedy writers that they trailed their subjects to a nearby diner, studied them and decided to slip into these personas for a comedy act. They’ve been them ever since—on television, Off-Broadway, on tour and now, remarkably, on Broadway.

After their double Broadway debuts, Kroll and Mulaney hopped a time machine and shed a good 40 years getting to the after-party at Brasserie 8½ on West 57th Street. Minus the gray guise, these turn out to be shockingly youthful-looking guys.

“This is the most glamorous thing that I’ve ever been a part of,” admitted the unabashedly-wet-behind-the-ears Mulaney, and he didn’t mind in the least bit dreaming out loud, either. “This is exactly what I hoped show business would be when I was a kid. I would watch I Love Lucy, and Ricky Ricardo would be home all day and then go to the club and do a show at night. That was always what I wanted to do—to be a standup at Saturday Night Live and now to be on Broadway. When I was a theatre usher in Chicago, I saw every Broadway show that came to town.”

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Nick Kroll and John Mulaney Bruce Glikas/Playbill

Kroll was likewise on Cloud Nine. “Both of us,” he said, “love theatre, so to be on Broadway doing this show is wonderful. As we say in the show, it’s ‘a love letter to Broadway and, simultaneously, a stalker’s note written in lipstick on a mirror.’”

There’s an added plus for him, too. “It’s genuinely a pleasure to do this show with my best friend, who just happens to be the funniest person in the world,” says Kroll of his compatriot. “This is the most fun thing to do—really—and I feel like getting onstage every night.”

One of Broadway’s young wunderkinds, Alex Timbers, stepped up to the plate to direct this debuting duo. He’s used to heavy lifting (Peter and the Starcatcher, Rocky) and gives the distinct impression that he had no problem at all directing them.

“They’re incredibly collaborative,” Timbers said. “They know these characters so well, but, as much as these characters are assholes onstage, they’re very kind gentlemen off stage. They love the theatre, even though they haven’t done it before, and so they’re really interested as the show pays homage to so many other shows. They were really interested in digging in and having a rehearsal process, learning what tech was like, meeting the stagehands in the theatre, learning all the lingo.”

Alex Timbers, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll
Alex Timbers, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll Joseph Marzullo/WENN

These three started out with their own Mutual Admiration Society, according to Timbers. “I met Nick about five years ago after I did Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Pee-Wee Herman Show, and we just had this great coffee. I was a big fan of his, and he’d loved those shows—but we really didn’t stay in touch because we don’t have overlapping worlds. Then, he and John started work on this theatre show, and they called me up last October and said, ‘Four weeks we’re doing this thing. Could you just put your eye on it?’ So we worked on it together at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

“It was just such an extraordinary experience, and, through that, we asked some producers to come down just ‘to see what you think.’ A couple of those producers raised their hands and said, ‘Yeah, we think this could work on Broadway.’ It got these great reviews at the Cherry Lane so they went and did a national tour and kept refining it, playing comedy houses or improv theatres. They geared up to play this, which actually has a full-on design and effects. It’s still pretty rudimentary because they’re rudimentary, but it has been a very positive experience for me.”

What could follow Oh, Hello on Broadway? For Timbers, it’s quite a slate: “I’m doing a Joan of Arc piece at The Public with David Bryne. We did Here Lies Love together two years ago. It starts previews in February, and it’s a rock musical based on the life of Joan of Arc. After that, stage adaptations of Beetlejuice and Moulin Rouge.”

READ MORE: Alex Timbers Talks Moulin Rouge Musical

He especially enjoyed doing Oh, Hello on Broadway because nothing was nailed down. “Every night the show is unlike any previous performance,” he pointed out, “not only because of the improv throughout it but because of the special guest.”

Yes, the two comics get a little help from a third party for the “Too Much Tuna” segment, plucked from the audience. Quite fittingly, on opening night, it was Alan Alda. “Alan is like a god to Gil and George, so it was great,” said the director. “Nick and John were so thrilled to have him on their first official show. Alan really warmed to Gil and felt really frustrated by George. There was a great comic tension in that.”


Kroll seconded the motion. “There’s no one we would rather have for an opening-night guest-star than Alan Alda. To have him on the show and talk to him before and after—it definitely feels like the cherry on top of what’s been a very crazy sundae.”

You don’t have to be famous to be chosen for the segment, please note. “George and Gil will talk to anyone,” admitted Mulaney. “As people who have seen the show know, we sometimes pull people out of the audience. We had a 13-year-old kid the other day, and that was one of my favorites. It was great, and he was a good sport.”

Josh Groban technically made his Broadway debut on the show the day before its opening and nine days before he starts previewing Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

Kroll asked Groban what was the strangest thing a fan has ever said to him. The answer: “A cardiac anesthesiologist once told me she used my music to put patients to sleep.” Later he was asked if he read the book (War and Peace), and he said “All but the last chapter. I fell asleep.” Kroll cracked, “Were you listening to your music?”

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