What do featured Broadway actors do after the show? Well, some of them want to go right back on stage for some no-holds-barred comedy. That seems to be the idea behind “Don’t Quit Your Night Job,” where “improvisation and comedy meet and make out.” Part sketch, part music and part improv, the 75-minute session offers rollicking if somewhat uneven entertainment.
Eighty years ago there were rooftop nightspots atop Flo Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam and the Shuberts’ Winter Garden, where playgoers and performers could get a post-show drink while being entertained by Broadway thesps. That’s what we have here, although “Night Job” is located in the dingy bowels of the Actors’ Equity building (just off Times Square). Six-perf-a-week sked is slotted around traditional showtimes, allowing an influx of working actors to supplement the four creator/performers. The preview attended featured a company of 12, five of whom are identifiable from recent Broadway roles.
Actors Steve Rosen, David Rossmer and Sarah Saltzberg — along with musical director Dan Lipton — have rounded up a rotating cast of 28, slated to join them at various perfs. These include Matt Cavenaugh, Will Chase, Jennifer Cody, Jenn Colella, John Ellison Conlee and Nancy Opel.
The producers also promise a long list of celebrity guests, with the usual suspects (Kristen Chenoweth, Brian d’Arcy James, Marc Kudish, Jane Krakowski, siblings Sutton and Hunter Foster) alongside some unlikely visitors (how often do you find Marvin Hamlisch or Marian Seldes in a Broadway basement?) The star guest at the preview reviewed was Tony-winner Dan Fogler (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”), who found himself playing Harpo Marx drinking Kool-Aid in Jonestown.
Show is formatted with a half-dozen or so skits in the “Saturday Night Live” vein, except that the parameters are guided by audience suggestion. For example, an interview show featuring clips from the new Broadway musical (audience fills in the title), by (audience fills in the author). Shouted in from ringside was “Britney Spears Loses Her Baby,” by Stephen Sondheim, with Cavenaugh (moonlighting after his stint as Joe Kennedy and the corn-eating Jerry in “Grey Gardens”) playing Donna Murphy playing Spears. The ensemble impressively formed themselves into a wedge and started singing something along the lines of “Into the Womb.”
If this sounds wildly funny, it was — though future audiences won’t ever get to see this one-time-only improv. Show has a definite insider slant; among the offerings was Henry Hodges, currently on the boards as Mary Poppins’ young charge Michael Banks, performing a scene as Bakunin in “The Coast of Utopia.” Pretty adept and charmingly composed for a 13-year-old, but what’s he doing onstage after midnight?
“Don’t Quit Your Night Job” started life last June as a benefit at Joe’s Pub, and has continued developing in once-a-month stints. Show seems to have the same freewheeling attitude as “Spelling Bee,” and not unnaturally so; Saltzberg was part of that piece since its pre-musical, improv days, developing and helping to create the role of Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre.
Saltzberg is the most authoritative of the creators here, with Rosen (of “Spamalot”) proving especially adept at quick-on-his-feet comedy. Creators might do well to beef up the first couple of sketches, which are not as strong as what follows. Among the rotating cast members caught, Jason Kravits (of “The Drowsy Chaperone”) and Mo Rocca (of “Spelling Bee” and “The Daily Show”) provided droll contributions.
This marks the first theatrical offering from Jed Bernstein, who recently left his post as president of League of American Theaters and Producers after 11 years. If it can maintain the novelty and attract Broadway cast members as paying customers, the show has definite potential. That’s how “Forbidden Broadway” got its start 25 years ago, before it became a tourist destination. With proper handling, “Don’t Quit Your Night Job” is funny and quirky enough to catch on.