The show, which began Off Broadway in 1992 and is currently making its Southern California debut, is something more than a revue, but something less than a full-scale musical. Creators Douglas Bernstein and Rob Krausz chose 25 of Sherman’s most memorable numbers and then fashioned a story around them, using a little plot and a lot of borscht-belt humor to link one song to another.
The story centers on Jewish everyman Barry Bockman (Jim Doughan), whom we follow from birth to old age. We watch asBarry goes to school, suffers through summer camp (of course), gets married, moves to New Rochelle, N.Y. (Sherman’s stand-in for Suburbia U.S.A.), frets about growing old and finally retires to Florida.
Along the way, we are treated to such mini-masterpieces as “Harvey and Sheila” (to “Hava Nagila”), “Sarah Jackman” (to “Frere Jacques”), “One Hippopotami” (to “What Kind of Fool Am I?”) and “Grow, Mrs. Goldfarb,” a grand salute to gluttony (to “Glow, Little Glowworm”).
There are also three songs from Sherman’s failed original musical “The Fig Leaves Are Falling,” which he wrote with composer Albert Hague. One of these, a middle-aged man’s lament entitled “Did I Ever Really Live?,” is really quite poignant — so much so that it’s a shame director Krausz breaks the mood immediately afterward and returns to the jokes.
Krausz’s staging is lively and energetic, though at times it crosses the line to become overly broad or overly busy. He and choreographer Lee Martino throw in sight gags that come and go as quickly as Sherman’s witticisms, such as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it homage to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” at a back yard barbecue.
The standout among the five performers, who are all complete pros, is Richard Zimmer.
His caricatures, which range from an obnoxious father of the bride to a nerdy suburban husband, are all admirably sharp. Howard Jones’ set, dominated by giant postcards, is neither attractive nor amusing, but Marjorie Bell’s costumes are period-perfect.
The star here, though, is Sherman, a lyricist who could rhyme “crater” with “seder” and “stars that are twinkly” with “David Brinkley.”
Yes, his material is rooted in a specific time and place — American Jewish culture of the 1960s — but, like any great artist, he finds the universal in the specific. In his songs, we find behaviors we recognize and characters we know, all presented to us with genuine cleverness and a refreshing lack of cynicism.