A Comic Bull's-Eye: Katie Finneran Is Older, Wiser and Funnier Than Ever at 54 Below
By Steven Suskin
Katie Finneran–the expert Broadway comedienne who seemed subdued in the 2012 revival of Annie–offered a convulsive demonstration last night of just how expert she is in It Might Be You: A Funny Lady's Search for Home at 54 Below. Finneran, who tells us that she is now 43 with two toddlers, is slightly older and wiser but every bit as funny.
Finneran has been hitting comedic bull's-eyes since her first major role in Neil Simon's 1997 Proposals. The play itself wasn't funny, but Finneran–as a dim-witted model–sure was. After a dramatic role in Kevin Spacey's 1999 production of The Iceman Cometh, she stole the stage from Patti LuPone & Co. in the 2001 revival of Noises Off. Following forays on screen and television, she returned as barfly Marge MacDougall in the 2010 revival of Simon's Promises, Promises. Finneran took Tony Awards for the latter two roles, and deserved them.
Annie was a strange exercise, with the star seeming severely miscast or misdirected. Most probably the latter, as Finneran–left to her own devices–could probably come up with a better Miss Hannigan than she appeared to be at the Palace. Five minutes at 54 Below, though, is all she needs to wipe the whole episode away. The verdict is that Finneran's sense of comedy is just as strong as ever it was. It Might Be You is a thorough treat, and might surprise those who have seen her only in Annie.
The headliner slinked onto the podium in a crinkly black gown, shushing the house with "It's Oh, So Quiet," a Betty Hutton song from 1951 which allowed Finneran to alter hot and cold from phrase to phrase. Her patter roughly hit upon the outlines of her career, beginning with her arrival in Manhattan as a 19-year-old in 1990. Anecdotes included one about the time when–while working as a waitress in the Crystal Room at Tavern on the Green–she spilled a tray full of Bloody Marys, and "it looked like I shot somebody." She presented her original audition song–Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane's "What Do You Think I Am?" (from Best Foot Forward), and followed it with a more worldly, scatological version.
Finneran then went on to a neurotically breathless "The Boy From. . .," which was as funny a rendition of the Mary Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim "Ipanema" parody as we've heard. She immediately topped herself with a raucous performance of Frank Loesser's "Murder He Says," another piece of Betty Hutton material. She simultaneously followed the course of her career, telling how she juggled motherhood with her various stage and television roles (including a story about TV executives Fedexing breast milk across the country). In another very funny section, she explains how she rehearsed for the 2011 New York Philharmonic production of Sondheim's Company from Hollywood via iPhone, learning her solo "Getting Married" while nursing her son.
Katie Finneran's It Might Be You is at 54 Below, through May 31. Finneran is very funny indeed–a very funny lady, to borrow from the subtitle title of her act. It's a pleasure to see her back on the New York stage, after Annie, her comic touch undiminished.
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