At the height of its popularity, the Catskill Mountains featured 500 resorts. Today, that figure has dropped to a mere dozen. Fortunately, Catskill comedy in its heyday is kept alive by many of the comedians that made the hills come alive with the sound of laughter. Four of them are onstage at the Wilshire Theatre, taking us from the Borscht Belt to Beverly Hills: Freddie Roman, president of the Friar’s Club; Mal Z. Lawrence; Dick Capri; and singing comedy impressionist Scott Record.
Roman takes the stage with beaming confidence and informs us, “three-quarters of every doctor, lawyer and accountant earned their tuition as waiters in the Catskills.” Opening with “Welcome to ‘Catskills on Broadway’ — or as I like to call it, ‘The Angina Monologues,’ ” he covers the aging Jewish population in Florida, senior citizen sex and presidential peccadilloes.
Highlight of his act is grandchildren. In an uproarious segment, he illustrates the joy grandparents feel when youngsters flood the Florida shores for a visit, then their horror upon realizing they have to entertain the little monsters for two weeks.
Record, who kicked off his career as Rodney Dangerfield’s opening act and played percussion with the Boston Pops, is a man of innumerable voices. His impressions range from Bobby Vinton to Louis Armstrong, and he’s perfect as Joe Cocker and David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears. He nails Pavarotti, physically and vocally, and there are amusing evocations of Ricky Martin, Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees and Roy Orbison. Record also sings as himself, revealing a voice that would impress any Metropolitan Opera impresario. A few of his characters seem dated (Bobby Goldsboro, the Singing Nun), and some of his truncated imitations are so outstanding that they should be lengthened. But his act is well paced and consistently entertaining.
Third on the bill is Capri, who worked extensively with Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli, and is the show’s only non-Jewish comedian. Capri defines himself as Catholic lite — a man who came from a liberal Catholic family (“We had a cross on the wall, but nobody was on it”). He gets in such Catskill-flavored gags as “How long does it take to satisfy your husband?” “I don’t know, I never tried.” He’s hilarious talking about families who have Italian Alzheimer’s — they forget everything but a grudge. Capri’s rapid-fire delivery is so crisp there’s no time to decide whether you find a joke funny. If one doesn’t hit the bull’s-eye, another whizzes past like a cannonball and makes you howl.
Lawrence, a fine actor as well as comedian (Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” on Broadway, “The Rounders” on film), closes the show with additional references to Florida, the most effective being about elderly people who identify themselves with their blood-pressure readings rather than their names. His routines fly by even more rapidly than Capri’s, and his comedy is accompanied by graceful, loose-limbed physical movement.
Cheering celebs included members of the Friar’s Club and fellow comics Red Buttons, Jan Murray, Arte Johnson, Joanne Worley and Alan Alda.
The orchestra, under direction of conductor-keyboardist Barry Levitt, supplies strong background, with notable trumpet work by Wayne Bergeron.
Bright lighting and bare stage serve the purpose of spotlighting routines to their best advantage.