Nick Kroll and John Mulaney have taken their cult hit, “Oh, Hello,” to mainstream Broadway’s Lyceum Theater, a “famously haunted theater,” according to the new residents. Their pre-established fanbase from Comedy Central, alt-comedy clubs and obscure videos should go for this sloppy, silly, occasionally inspired, extended version of their comic shtick as two affected Upper West Side geezers named Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland — but “Oh, Hello on Broadway” might not be the show to win over new enthusiasts.
Scott Pask’s funky set defines the show’s material. There’s a hunk of the beauty parlor set from “Steel Magnolias,” a staircase from some unnamed August Wilson play, and the front door and stoop of the Huxtables’ brownstone, along with a bunch of props from “I Am My Own Wife.” There’s no defining theme to the show, either, and the humor is all over the map.
The core component of their act is pure character comedy. Looking a fright in floppy old-man wigs and baggy old-man outfits designed by Emily Rebholz, Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (Mulaney) are 70-something roommates who have been living in a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side for about half a century. Taking upon themselves the theatrical vibe of the neighborhood, George fancies himself a writer and Gil insists he’s a working actor. To enlighten us about their work, they illustrate the techniques of delivering nonsensical curtain lines and making one-sided telephone calls. We should also be aware that, “if this is a drama, there will be screaming.”
The self-referential theater jokes are funny enough, but not as inspired as the Upper West Side material, which is smart, insightful, and mean. You have to be in the know to catch some of their glancing references to arcane Upper West Side lore, like the Judaica shop that’s always closed. And Gil’s claim that, “whether I live in your building or not, I am somehow on your co-op board” is a lot wittier — and scarier — if you live in a co-op.
But everyone is welcome to howl at their antics at the local diner. After carefully perusing the 24-page laminated menu, they order diner specialties like overcooked burgers and toxic coffee and, of course overstuffed tuna fish sandwiches, after their classic routine, “Too Much Tuna.”
This ongoing prank consists of meeting a friend at an Upper West Side diner and ordering him or her a grotesquely huge tuna fish sandwich. In past shows, they’ve called on friends like Colin Quinn and Lena Dunham to get publicly pranked. On one recent night at the Lyceum, the lucky person was NBC “Late Night” host Seth Meyers, who’s a champion of the comedy duo.
Although the pair stayed in character, the comedic style switched to improv, at which Mulaney is especially adept. Meyers had fun. The guys had fun. And fans who love this particular shtick loved it. Less successful are the “production values” intended to enhance the skit for Broadway. Delivering the mega-sandwich from on-high (and in a gilded cage) is a decent effect. Not so the too-much-tuna stage curtain, which is … too much.
Riffing on the state of the city as it’s changed over the decades, the humor shifts again to old-school stand-up comedy routines. Some of their decade-defining moments are truly terrific, like summing up the down-and-dirty 1970s with the image of a city where “tires rolled down the street on fire.” A clever sight gag also defines the Ed Koch years of the 1980s. But the O.J. Simpson trial belongs to L.A., not 1990s New York.
In the end, you have to ask yourself: Is the material of this show really that uneven, or is the production, directed by Alex Timbers, still evolving? With the duo’s improv skills and their packed houses of savvy fans, “Oh, Hello” could develop into a production format that would be all its own — and genuinely original.