note: entire contents copyright 1997 by E. Kyle Minor
by E. Kyle Minor
Don't think that "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!" is a one-joke revue of Allan Sherman's song parodies. As witnessed from Bridgeport's Downtown Cabaret Theatre production running through May, the the laughter ripples on "ad hysterium." Sherman is best known today for writing the revue's title song, one of the best novelty songs of the 1960s. The revelation of the show, conceived and written by Douglas Bernstein and Rob Krausz, is that Sherman left behind many wonderfully irreverent songs transcending ethnic and temporal barriers. Whether these ditties are classics or not is purely a personal matter. What is sure is that they offer the silliest, most refreshing entertainment since the non-sensical "El Grande de Coca Cola."
Sherman (1924-1973) was neither a musician nor songwriter, in the true sense of either word. He wrote limericks for standard tunes in the public domain. His gift was in replacing stoic, hallowed lyrics with improbable yet inevitable rhymes for comic effect. He converted the patriotic "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with the tail of a garment district martyr ("Glory Glory Harry Lewis..."), including the irresistible line "He is trampling through the warehouse where the drapes of Roth are stored."
He rolls the Jewish wedding favorite "Hava Nagila" into "Harvey and Sheila," "Frere Jacques" into "Sarah Jackman" and "Dance of the Hours" (from the Ponchielli 1876 opera "La Gioconda") into the title song. Sherman's output is not so much remarkable in size as in quality. There's not a dud among the 30 songs Messrs.. Bernstein and Krausz have selected for the two-hour entertainment.
The revue's creators have constructed a scant story outline to frame Sherman's songs that is both serviceably deft and daffy. The conceit is to follow the life of Barry Bockman (also derived from "Frere Jacques") through infancy to retirement in Miami. Like "Tomfoolery," a revue of Sherman's contemoprary and kindred spirit Tom Lehrer, "Hello Muddah" never takes itself too seriously. The sketches and continuity between songs blends seamlessly into the music rather than impede flow or call attention to themselves. To Bernstein's and Krausz' credit, their work is just as warped and recklessly giddy as Sherman's.
Though heavily accented in Jewish seasoning, "Hello Muddah" reaches a broad audience. Though some knowledge of Yiddish doesn't hurt, Sherman's humor is about people's insecurities, foibles and mores. You will laugh regardless from which direction you read your Holy Book. To say that gentiles won't get "Hello Muddah" is like saying only doctors can enjoy "Chicago Hope."
Krausz himself directs the Cabaret's production (Michael Leeds staged the 1992 Off-Broadway production). He employs a cast of five broadly comic actors who may require custodial care when the curtain rings down nightly. They are meshuganer. Chris Dell'Armo plays Barry as the perfect schlemiel. On one occasion he drags as a frenzied female shopper ("Jump Down Spin Around"); in this rarefied moment his long, meatless legs and bean-pole torso make him look like Olive Oil on the Ghandi diet.
Amy Griffen is a beguiling Sarah, bursting with energy and good voice. Richard Zimmer plays, among other roles, Sarah's father Harvey. His crowning moment, however, may also be in drag, or at the wedding of his daughter. Joanne Borts is a towering Sheila with range in both her voice and comic timing.
Jimmy Spadol steals the show as Phil, Barry's narcissistic yet lovable uncle. He goes nuts at Barry's wedding, monopolizing the microphone to sing, strut and cut up the guests. Of all the talented actors, Spadol pulls off the best-worst puns. and rhymes with the least guilt. In matters humorous, he's shameless.
Jeff Modereger's nominal set consist of large children's blocks spelling out the revue's title, thus capturing the show's gentle humor. Marianne Powell-Parker's costumes parody stereotypical garb from Uncle Phil's chest gold to his knee-high socks-cum-Bermuda shorts in Miami. Bruce Barnes' musical direction is playful and varied, a neat trick considering the rudimentary nature of the tunes.
No matter what your background or your past life experiences, "Hello Muddah
Hello Fadduh!" should be in your immediate future. It will give you the
silliest two hours you could ask for in a theatre.
Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah Hello Fadduh!"
runs through May 4
at Downtown Cabaret Theatre
263 Golden Hill Street, Bridgeport
Tickets range $19.50-$25, with discounts for groups over 20.
Call the box office at 576-1634.