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A CurtainUp Review
Laughing Room Only
By Elyse Sommer
As Mason would have us believe, this is the realization of his dream to produce an old-fashioned, vaudevillian entertainment -- "for $19.95." What's more, while he shares the stage with five peppy singer-dancers, their Sondheimian "Jackie. . ..Jackie.. . .Jackie." immediately establishes that this, like his previous shows, remains a star vehicle. Alas, this is a star whose sparkle has dimmed from overexposure.
Michael Anania's cheerful red and blue set features doors and panels that open and close conveniently to introduce various numbers and an assortment of backdrops (the most amusing being a skewered Manhattan skyline) and props like the glittery Star of David adorned candelabras that pop out when Jackie sings "This Jew Can Sing." Of course he can't so credit both Mason and director Robert Johanson for not trying to prove that he has musical talent but instead playing up his shortcomings as a music man by having him do an ivory-synching piano virtuoso, lypsinching along with the ensemble and "tapping" his way through a dance number from a chair on rollers. In "Tea Time", a ladies who lunch number in which Ruth Gottschall and Cheryl Stern exchange musical confidences about their sex life, Mason makes a rare and quite droll second banana appearance as a shocked waiter hovering around their table.
The revue format also proves a good excuse to musicalize some favorite Mason-ic spoofing. Thus his famous Fancy French imitation paves the way for Stern to belt out an Edith Piaf-like "French Chanteuse." Mason's pronouncements on the ever proliferating Starbucks coffee shops leads into the first act's big finale called, (you guessed right) "Starbucks" which went on so long that the woman sitting next to me declared "He really spent $19.95 -- Starbucks paid for everything over that!"
The music, while more peppy than distinguished does add color to the show though many of the numbers, like Mason's comic riffs, tend to go on too long without getting anywhere. Thom Heyer gives the ensemble plenty of bright, revue-ish costume changes, including skin colored body suits for a mock-nude Adam and Eve interlude that's more silly and tasteless than sexy. Mason himself merely switches from the blue suit he wore in his last show, Prune Danish, to all black formal wear, a sharp contrast for the red-tinted hair which has been brushed back to make him look like a roly-poly Christopher Walken.
If I seem to be talking mostly about the revue aspects of Laughing Room Only, that's not to say that the two and a half hours don't have plenty of innings when Mason paces back and forth with his trademark robotic head and shoulder twitches and raised eyebrows, dispensing familiar jokes and variations thereof. The distinctive Mason-ic Yiddish-American inflection is especially funny when he talks in foreign tongues that never really sound like anyone but Mason.
As usual, those sitting in the front rows come in for their share of his no holds barred insult humor, along with cultural icons that include: Niagara Falls; the Grand Canyon ("a hole in the ground"); Shakespeare (who, according to Mason should have had the melancholy Dane "write it down" instead of worrying whether "to be or not to be"); all things French, from haute cuisine ("an empty plate with sauce") to Picasso and French wine; opera, as a big snooze ("Did you ever see anyone sleep at a football game?"). It would be nice to report that the tiresome comments about Indian taxi drivers and knife-wielding, hubcap stealing Puerto Ricans have been retired. But no such luck.
During the show's final inning Mason once again anticipates the critical attacks on his political incorrectness with a sketch about the difference between Jews and Gentiles. If you heard the one about how Gentile and Jewish home owners differ (the Gentiles know how to measure and fix up a space but the only space Jews care about is "closet space"), be prepared to hear it again.
There's less political humor than usual. No Mayor Bloomberg jokes to replace the Guigliani ones. Nothing about Senator Clinton, though Mason can't resist a jab at her husband. The most trenchant political sketch is a roller coaster summary of the Iraq War that's as sadly accurate as it is funny -- and which he cautiously counteracts with a red, white and blue, flag-waving " I'm In love with America" finale.
While Mason's patter has become overly familiar, the comedian remains a master of making what he does seem easy. Whether straight up or with music and dancing, for his legion of fans any new Jackie Mason show is, as I said in another review (Much Ado About Everything ) a command performance, like attending Shul on Yom Kippur. For everyone else, even if the tickets were $19.95 instead of a top of $90, Laughing Room Only is likely be decidedly less bracing than a Cafe Latte at Starbucks.
If you leave the theater hungry for more Mason you might want to get a copy of Jackie Mason On Broadway
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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