Billy Crystal made $10 million on Broad way last season with his autobiographical show “700 Sundays,” so why not Martin Short?
The popular comedian recently unveiled his show, “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me,” for an invited audience made up of theater owners, potential investors, celebrity pals (Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Steve Martin, Eugene Levy) and other showbiz insiders.
People who saw it are still laughing.
Unlike Crystal’s carefully wrought, sentimental trip back to his childhood on Long Beach, Short’s show is pure, old-fashioned sketch comedy and musical revue.
“It’s loose, very loose,” says a theater executive.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman √≥ Broadway’s favorite funny couple who wrote the score to “Hairspray” √≥ supplied the original songs and comic routines.
Wittman calls the show a cross between “Hellzapoppin’ ” √≥ the legendary Olsen and Johnson vaudeville from 1938 √≥ and “New Faces of 1952,” a revue that launched the careers of Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde and lyricist Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof”).
“The notion behind this is: It’s OK to be entertaining,” Wittman says. “We’re just being funny for the sake of being funny.”
Short, who is joined on stage by four other performers, plays himself at times, though his life story is completely made up.
“Marty’s had a wonderful life, so we had to create some angst,” Wittman says.
Short pokes fun at all the autobiographical shows that have swamped Broadway in recent years, including Crystal’s.
Crystal talked about the “boulder” he had to push through life, a symbol for the sudden death of his father when Crystal was a kid; Short talks about a symbolic “snowball” he’s had to deal with while struggling to make it in showbiz.
“It’s hard. Sometimes you forget to wear your mittens.”
Where Elaine Stritch dragged around a stool on stage in “At Liberty,” Short drags around a bar stool and talks about the 12-step program.
In the second half of the show, Short trots out his Jiminy Glick character, the fawning celebrity interviewer and host of his own entertainment cable show in Butte, Montana.
Glick sings a song called “Every Saturday at Sardi’s” √≥ “where we stop by and sip Bacardis” √≥ and then pulls a celebrity out of the audience for an interview (Lane, Paul Shaffer and “Sweeney Todd” star Michael Cerveris all obliged him at the workshop).
When the show gets to Broadway, Wittman says Short will make good use of any celebrity who’s in town that night to appear on David Letterman’s show.
Another routine, which I hear is hysterical, concerns famous Broadway directors, including Tommy Tune, who is played by an actor on stilts.
Bob Fosse makes an appearance as well. A drink in his hand, a cigarette hanging from his lips, he’s in the middle of choreographing a number when he has a heart attack.
The dancers think his convulsions are steps and mimic him until they wind up dead.
If all of this sounds funny to you, then you’re probably a showbiz insider √≥ or at least a theater queen.
And the one criticism that some people have about “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me” is that it’s too insider-y for its own good.
Wittman is aware of that pitfall, however, and he says he’s taken pains to make sure everyone is in on the joke.
“It has to stand on its own,” he says. “It can’t just be 10 gay men laughing.”
“Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me” (a good title, but not as funny as the original, “If I’d Saved, I Wouldn’t Be Here”) will likely play out-of-town tryouts in Chicago and San Francisco before opening on Broadway in the spring.