Theater Barn / “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!”
AT THE START (just to be sure you know where you’re going during your evening at the Theater Barn) the set designer (Abe Phelps—or is it “scene painter,” Roger Mason?) offers two deliberately ugly flats. They are ads promoting the Catskill Mountains and the Borscht Belt.
Beside them are two more flats, strong and amazingly beautifully painted rectangles in Renoirish glow out of slate gray, yellow and red. The uglies disappear, and when two more flats of the “strong and amazing” kind are added, the effect is almost overwhelming.
There are more flats with some “Masonic,” gracefully crooked trees standing against blazing orange skies. And when the gorgeous face of Amy Fiebke appeared, I became worried that the Fiebke face and the painted flats were going to steal focus all evening long.
All this art–human and painted–would seem to work against a farcical show based on the life of a sort-of standard Jewish boy-man-oldster. Acting and characters do take over, but it is not a given.
“Hello Muddah…” is a revue featuring familiar songs with sassy, almost homespun Allan Sherman lyrics imposed upon them. Douglas Bernstein and Rob Krausz put the stuff together, but it is Sherman who rules. His lyrics do not even try for elegant rhymes or subtle implications, but there are lots of funnies in the borscht-belt manner, and you won’t be able to resist them. Sherman mines all aspects of Jewish humor and stereotype.
The show is a period piece, and I am afraid persons under 50 might not catch some of the references. As for the songs, well, it’s time the under-50 crowd learned them in both their original form and maybe also in the Sherman transmogrifications: “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” (Glory, Glory Harry Lewis”!) Or, as the parents of an astronaut say…
My wife and I, we miss our little Harvey so
Back here in New Rochelle
That every single night, in the pale moonlight
We walk out on the patio and yell
Shine on, shine on, Harvey Bloom, up in the sky…
You get the picture.
Choreography by Eugene Contenti is a bit too abundant, although the borscht-belt patterns may be pleasantly familiar to most watchers. Allen Phelps’ direction is good, especially the buttons he puts on each scene. Of course, he might have pulled back, or shaped some of the too-frantic movement.
Each cast member plays multiple roles, and Jared Sigler in particular exhibits an attractive, natural charm that may be an engine to his career. Nolan Burke is exceptionally versatile and effective in seven different roles.
Fiebke disguises that face as much as she can with wigs and horn-rimmed glasses. She only allows it out for one character–a glamorous, sequined-dressed “mother” who has been out drinking and dallying.
In spite of having basically good voices, the men (Sigler, Burke, and Ricky Gee) lapse into quite a lot of out-of-tune singing. Some of it is deliberate, and lots of it is not! The raw, nasal vocal production of Patti DeMatteo assaults the ears and inhibits lyrics, though the actress definitely has engaging comedic flair. Fiebke shows a hint of real voice, but she doesn’t get to show it off much.
The “orchestra” (piano by Matthew Russell and Drums by Ian Tucksmith) sounds a bit lonesome, as if a couple of instrumentalists were out with the flu; but they are correct in their decision to subordinate their sound to these all-important lyrics.
“Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” runs through Sunday, August 21st. Get seats (in which you will wiggle with laughter) at 518 794-8989.