Go see "Our Show of Shows," and you just have to applaud. No, really, you have to applaud because you, the spectator in the seat, are a part of the show. You have to laugh, too.
No, really you have to laugh, because Scott Treadway and the rest of the ensemble present the funniest two hours of Treadway-driven multi-character comedy since the Tuna shows recently and the "Big Bang" eight years ago.
The opening seems a little too forced, as if the concept of the audience seeing a live television show unfold is too exotic. It's really not. Similar setups have been staged plenty of times before, even here at the Playhouse.
The first 10 minutes could be trimmed to five with no loss of the training the audience needed. Pre-show host Damian Duke Domingue tells us to clap, we clap. Duke tells us to unleash our belly laugh and snort and guffaw, we belly laugh and snort and guffaw.
It's best to get to the show quickly, because the show is so darned good.
A whole lot of Flat Rock Playhouse loyalists had been longing for the return of Scott Treadway to these boards since his departure eighteen months ago for a stint as a visiting artistic director at a regional theater in Roanoke, Va.. He does not disappoint upon his return.
Credit goes to Playhouse artistic director Vincent Marini, who wrote and produced the play, for the vision to see the perfect marriage of the Sid Caesar material and Treadway's skills. The rest of the cast of Domingue, Mary Ann Conk, Preston Dyar, Maggie Lakis, Rob McClure, Tom Wahl and Brenna Yeary are as well equal to the high-wire act of switching costumes and characters in the span of two-minute commercial breaks (during which the audience sees actual commercials that are themselves a portrait of 1950s culture before feminism and the surgeon general).
From his physical performance in the opening scene to his aggrieved rubber-faced reaction in a hilarious movie theater scene to the incredibly choreographed and visually stunning clock scene, Treadway remains at the top of his game, almost three decades and 120 shows since he first appeared on the stage of the old barn as a young intern from Tennessee.
He's surrounded by a multitalented cast that shares his energy and joy, especially the compact and very funny Rob McClure, who like Playhouse veteran exudes great joy in shaping each role.
After the audience training bit, "Our Show of Shows" opens with ushers dragging an unsuspecting audience member to the stage for this is your life. It's Treadway, who furiously and futilely resists. On stage he is greeted by an old uncle, an old aunt and an old friend named Torch. What ensues is the first of many physically demanding and hilarious scenes. In this one, the actors are unable to resist hugging, greeting and re-greeting one another in a 10-minute long dogpile. It's all the more precisely choreographed because it appears to be complete chaos. As one theater patron said during intermission, "Someone could get hurt doing that."
Marini says in the playbill notes that a DVD of "the best surviving kinescopes" of "Your Show of Shows" brought an epiphany.
"In about 30 minutes I witnessed the beginning of modern television comedy as we know it," he wrote. "Shows like 'Honeymooners,' 'I Love Lucy,' 'Saturday Night Live,' 'The Tonight Show,' 'The Simpsons,' and countless other classic American comedies suddenly seemed a lot less original — a lot less groundbreaking when viewed in the context of what happened every Saturday night on NBC from 1950-1954."
Scene 2 finds Treadway, a young executive in a three-piece suit, coming home tired and grumpy from "a miserable day at the office." His wife, played with innocent comic flair by Maggie Lakis, puts him off for as long as possible before he guesses the bad news about the car. It's a time-tested setup of the audience knowing what the character does not, and Treadway leads up beautifully to the inevitable emotional crash.
There really are no slow moments, just a couple of second act clunkers. The scene with movie producers trying to save a bad picture starts in a promising way, with McClure delivering a very good Jimmy Stewart shtick. But Treadway, as a pompous and clueless consultant, never really nails this part, and McClure seems to go from Jimmy Stewart to a more conventional persona by the end of the scene.
The scene from an Italian village again showcases those two actors' ability to speak what sounds like a foreign language but isn't — a classic Sid Caesar invention — but that an editor's meat ax instead of a scalpel would better serve.
Make no mistake, though. It's a job to find flaws in "Our Show of Shows" and the show is absolutely worth seeing if you want the sort of rib-cracking comedy that the Playhouse does so well. There's real joy blasting out from that stage, not to mention incredible talent in dancing and stunning physical clowning and impressive stamina.
One thing the set lacked was a lightup laugh sign.
Marini must have figured that with Scott Treadway back on the main stage where he belongs, a laugh sign was unneeded. He figured right, big time.
"Our Show of Shows" runs through May 20. Tickets: $35 with discounts available for seniors, AAA members, military personnel, students and groups. Rush Ticket Discount available May 3-5. The Playhouse will host a special audio described performance of the show for sight impaired patrons on Saturday, May 19, 2 pm. Box office: 838.693.0731, 866.732.8008. www.flatrockplayhouse.com
City's Rhythm & Brews event breaks new ground
Meadows tacks toward center on immigration