Review: ‘Comedy Tonight’

Four comics, no waiting.

Four comics, no waiting.

Veteran producer Alex Cohen originally assembled three comedians — New Vaudevillian Michael Davis, singer Dorothy Loudon andpolitical satirist Mort Sahl — and one new song from Kander and Ebb called “Three” for the Rich Forum in Stamford, Conn., which he runs. In New York, standup comic Joy Behar has been added to the roster and the song dropped, since “Three” would be an odd thing, indeed, to open a show featuring four performers. Instead, an onstage quartet peppers the intermissionless evening with musical quotes from Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight,” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

It’s hard to imagine what the earlier incarnation was like, since Behar steals what can only very loosely be called the show (though Davis steals it right back, only to have Loudon and Sahl promptly lose it forever). There’s no reason why a comedy revue shouldn’t be able to find an audience on Broadway, but then again, I’m the guy — possibly the only guy on record — who liked “Andre Heller’s Wonderhouse” a few years back, and by the time I got to “Comedy Tonight” shortly after its official opening, the closing notice already had been posted for Christmas Eve. The ushers at the Lunt-Fontanne seemed to take a perverse delight in telling patrons the show was on its deathbed.

At any rate, for the first hour, which is given over to Behar’s shtick and Davis’ antics, “Comedy Tonight” is pretty funny, in its own completely conventional way.

Behar confides that while she’s often taken for being Jewish, she’s actually Italian, and much of her 30-minute routine is about Jews and Italians from the Brooklyn neighborhood in which she grew up or, more generally, about women like her today: This is someone for whom the term “natural childbirth” means no eye makeup, no lipstick and just a touch of blush, and whose advice to men confused by feminism is, “You still have to pay, andkill the big bugs in the kitchen.”

Davis is a very funny juggler and, in the case of his bit with three black helium-filled balloons, anti-juggler. Other flying objects include bowling balls mixed up with eggs and several large, extremely scary-looking bladed instruments.

Loudon stretches mightily to fill her half-hour — which culminates with Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “Fifty Percent” from the 1978 “Ballroom,” a Michael Bennett failure in which she starred. The material written for her by Bruce Vilanch is terrible, and of the four performers, the show generally does her the biggest disservice.

Only slightly better is Sahl, whose rambling delivery misses more targets than it hits and, worse, smacks of self-satisfaction. He does, however, refer correctly to Ray Klausen’s scarlet-and-gold set as “the Hunan Garden on Mott Street.”

Comedy Tonight

Lunt-Fontanne Theater, New York; 1,476 seats; $50 top

Production

An Alexander H. Cohen and Max Cooper presentation of a revue in one act. Directed by Cohen; musical staging by Albert Stephenson. Musical director, Peter Howard.

Creative

Sets, Ray Klausen; costumes, Alvin Colt; lighting, Richard Nelson; sound, Bruce D. Cameron; production stage manager, Bob Borod; associate producer , Hildy Parks; general management, Marvin A. Krauss. Opened Dec. 18, 1994, at the (closed Dec. 24). Reviewed Dec. 20. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

With: Joy Behar, Michael Davis, Dorothy Loudon, Mort Sahl.
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