The review was corrected Feb. 25
That rotund master of all things funny, Bruce Vilanch (“Hollywood Squares”), has ensconced himself onstage at the Canon Theatre for a once-weekly sojourn through his 30-year career as a comedy writer. Accompanied sparingly by onstage pianist David Loeb, Vilanch offers a tantalizing, often hilarious glimpse at the behind-the-scenes exploits of a showbiz icon who has had the task of culling laughs for an array of gifted comics (Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, etc.) and an assortment of others (i.e., Dolly Parton, Elizabeth Taylor, the Osmonds, the Manhattan Transfer, Siegfried and Roy). Of course, much of his discourse is devoted to jaundiced musings about his experiences penning the between-presentation chatter for the “quadruple crown” of televised awards shows (the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Grammys).
Strolling on stage in a sequined T-shirt, the thickly maned and bewhiskered jokesmith quickly informs the audience, “I have no act.” He then proceeds to regale the assemblage with a leisurely but exquisitely paced medley of jokes, reminiscences and observations, highlighted by a sprightly musical homage to the gay contribution to show business (“We Are the Queens Behind the Scenes”) and his outrageously bawdy, show-closing sendup of legendary vaudeville diva Sophie Tucker (“I’m the Last of the Red Hot Mamas”).
Much of Vilanch’s material underscores his insights on being Jewish and gay. While writing for the decidedly humorless Donny and Marie Osmond, he recalls the panic-stricken WASP producers shouting, “We need more Jewish writers.” Acknowledging how much the gay community is addicted to award shows, he assures the audience that if anyone were to drive through West Hollywood during the Oscar telecast, at some point in the evening an anguished cry would be heard from every window in town: “Who did her hair?”
Vilanch is actually mild in his remarks on other showbiz personalities, offering anecdotes that are more affectionate than barbed about such artists as Elizabeth Taylor, Dr. Laura, Bette Midler, Paul Lynde and Tallulah Bankhead. Commenting on the relentless presence of Joan and Melissa Rivers at pre-awards show telecasts, Vilanch delivers a spot-on impression of Melissa: “Back to you, Mom.”
The quick-witted comedy guru devotes the latter part of his show to answering written questions from the audience. When asked what was his strangest writing job, he quickly answers, “Siegfried and Roy,” before detouring to another Vegas act, Bobby Berosini and his orangutans, as the actual answer to the question. Remembering being in the same room with Roy and 11 Bengal tigers, he recalls, “The tigers though of Roy as their mother, and when he left the room they thought of me as food.”
Asked about the most inappropriate Oscar telecast material he ever wrote, he refers to the intro he penned for presenter Richard Gere. Billy Crystal would have said Gere’s scheduled co-presenter was the star of animated feature “An American Tail,” “but Fievel backed out.” It wasn’t used.