PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me: Grist for the Glick Mill

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18 Aug 2006

The Short Family; Kristen Johnston & Scott Whitman; Tom Hanks & Nathan Lane; Janine LaManna & Angie Schworer; Matthew Morrison; Sara Gettelfinger; Sarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick; Christine Ebersole; Bernadette Peters; Marc Shaiman & Martin Short
The Short Family; Kristen Johnston & Scott Whitman; Tom Hanks & Nathan Lane; Janine LaManna & Angie Schworer; Matthew Morrison; Sara Gettelfinger; Sarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick; Christine Ebersole; Bernadette Peters; Marc Shaiman & Martin Short
Photo by Aubrey Reuben
Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Goldie Hawn, Nathan Lane, Tina Fey, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks, Jason Sudeikis, Larry David, Chris Elliot, Kristen Johnston—The American Comedy Hall of Fame seemed to have convened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre Aug. 17 for the opening of Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.

Then there was the Canadian contingent—Letterman band-leader Paul Shaffer, Tony-winner Andrea Martin and character comic Eugene Levy, all of whom had known Short since 1972 when they were all tadpole disciples together in the Toronto company of Godspell .

These were enough to send Jiminy Glick over the moon with giddy anticipation. Who, of this distinguished assemblage, would the clueless celebrity interrogator drag on stage and subject to his own highly eccentric line of nonsensical pneumatic drilling (“If Lincoln were alive today, would he be pleased with his tunnel?” or, perchance, “Where were you when the Queen had Diana killed?”). The whole house was fraught with knotted dread.

And there were back-up red herrings by the bushelful, likewise twitching nervously till a victim could be determined for glib Mr. Glick: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Kurt Russell, Bernadette Peters (Short’s Goodbye Girl), Alec Baldwin, Lily Rabe, Michael McGrath (Short’s talk-show sidekick and Little Me understudy, enjoying “Patsy’s Night Off” from Spamalot), Rita Wilson (not enjoying her night off from Chicago when her gown snap broke on entering the theatre—“first time I’ve worn it!”), Lauren Bacall, Phyllis Newman, Legally Blonde director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell with his dance partner from Michael Bennett days, Jodi Muccio, CBS’s Harry Smith dressing up the press-receiving line, Michael Feinstein (who actually volunteered for the Glick once-over), Matthew Morrison of Hairspray and The Light in the Piazza, Christine Ebersole who’s bound for the Broadway Grey Gardens Nov. 2 and Craig Bierko.

I won’t prolong the suspense: Seinfeld was the audience sacrifice, plucked from his aisle seat and escorted to the stage. He took it like an Everyman, with a jaunty surrender that didn’t rule out a few jabs of his own, but mostly he wryly let the tacky questions roll by.

“So when did your series get canceled?” asked Glick with an airy abandon Dame Edna might have admired. Seinfeld grinned and said he was a family man now and moved to a different drummer. “I’ve tried to relax and go to shows, but it hasn’t worked out.”

Fast, funny, frenetic, one perpetual bounce off the rubber-room walls, Glick may well be Short’s most inspired comic creation (I prefer the one he took no screen credit for at all: Kevin Bacon’s coked-out-of-his-gord, Hollywood power agent in "The Big Picture" of 1989)—but both are done in double-ditz italics. Short is the comedy world’s fast ball, and he seems to be in there pitching constantly in this show of his own design. Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me purports to be the story of his life, or at least the “Hard Copy” rendition. Daniel Goldfarb shares book credit, with additional material by Alan Zweibel, who wrote Bunny Bunny and 700 Sundays—oh, and it’s an original musical, too (the second Broadway score from composer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman).

Counting his Tony-nominated turn in The Goodbye Girl and his Tony-winning turn in Little Me, this is Short’s third Broadway outing. “Fourth!,” he was fast to correct soon after he arrived at Tavern on the Green for some glad-handing R&R. “I count Encores!’”

As well he should. In 1997, for five performances (March 20-23), he headed up a superb revival of Promises, Promises that should have run, not walked, directly to Broadway. Kerry O’Malley, Terrence Mann, Eugene Levy, Samuel E. Wright, Dick Latessa, Joe Grifasi and the brilliantly brittle Christine Baranski were in fine form as well. But his kids were in school in Los Angeles at the time, and that effectively scuttled the transfer.

Which just goes to show you the kind of pinhead we’re dealing with here—the kind who puts home and hearth ahead of fame and glory. "The Happiest Millionaire" has been done as a musical, and not very excitingly, so Short & Co. have opted to round off his four-square corners with flamboyant frictions (i.e., lie). By any other name, Fame Becomes Me is Tall Tales of a Short Life, and it ticks off in take-offs of previous one-person shows (Crystal’s, Dame Edna’s, Elaine Stritch’s—Tony winners all, by the way, so he’s ribbing the best of the breed).

The format is a throwback to the anything-goes scatter-gun sketches practiced in the comedy colleges where Short learned his stuff—”SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live”—and even some of his old ghosts created in those early days prance and shuffle by on stage here (Ed Grimley, the pointy-haired nerd, and Irving Cohen, the crusty old songsmith).

“It’s easier not to be a writer,” Short can now admit. “Before, if something wasn’t working, you could go to Angus’ and have a beer and say, ‘Oh, God! I hope they figure it out.’ You can’t do that when you’re one of the writers. You have to figure it out.”

One of the things he figured out was to cut the intermission—never mind the much-needed breather it would give him doing this incredible comic marathon. “We did a workshop last November, and it was always ‘Should it be one act or two?’ We started out with two acts, but most of us thought it should be one act, and that’s what it eventually became.”

So when does he get a chance to rest? One moment is while he is being padded up for his roly-poly Glick backstage and the supporting cast of his “one-man show” is running around the theatre singing and soliciting (“Would Ya Like to Star in Our Show?”). “I drink my Gatorade, and I sit there. When I do changes, I just sorta Zen out.”

He downplayed the obviously physical demands of the show, but it is a pretty conspicuous workout any way you look at it. One producer said it was especially difficult for him during the recent heat crisis when it was 89 degrees backstage—but he trouped on.

“Eight shows a week, and he’s 56,” Zweibel said, turning the possibilities over in his head, then managed a morose smile. “We’ll see.” Cavalier black-comedy, a specialty.

He also enjoys working with friends. “I had as much fun with this as I’ve had with anything,” he admitted. “It’s fun when it’s people you like. It’s chemistry. It’s social.”

A supporting cast of five (counting Shaiman at the piano) precedes Short on stage singing the virtues of one-person shows. During the course of the show, each gets a spot to shine.

Mary Birdsong and Nicole Parker serve up a host of jokey impersonations in their Broadway debuts— Ellen DeGeneres, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Britney Spears, Celine Dion—but, arguably, their wickedest is done in tandem: Birdsong gives Jodie Foster the voice of sheer slate, and Parker gives Renee Zellweger a distorted smirk.

“A lot of the characters we did just came about haphazardly," chirped Birdsong. "Like, ‘we need somebody to play off of Renee here.’ It was going to be Salma Hayek for a second. I’d never done Salma Hayek so I said, ‘Oh, we can drum up something for this.’ You throw it up there, and you see what sticks. We knew we wanted to do Renee presenting this award and we needed somebody to be at her side so I said, ‘Let’s try this,’ and it just came alive, in a fun way. Marty sets the tone. The tone is irreverent, and anything is game. Nobody’s off limits. No subjects are off limit. It just makes everything easy because we can all relax.


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