You can get a good idea of what’s ahead in the comic revue called “A Few of Our Favorite Things” by studying Durk Durossette’s handsome living-room setting the minute you sit down at Act II Playhouse. A Kermit the Frog puppet relaxes sits on a shelf, and old records and other items adorn the walls. You may not be able to make them out, but you’ll be able to tell that every one of them is bygone.
In fact, Mae West is up there, and so is a nod to a later funny bawd, Belle Barth. Remember Vaughn Meader, the premiere impressionist of JFK? He was fun in his day. But he’s no Alec Baldwin.
The world has changed a lot since the notables on display became notable. I wondered, while watching two comic experts perform the show, why their favorite things represented in the show were mostly dead ones. Tony Braithwaite and Jen Childs, the artistic directors of Act II Playhouse and 1812 Productions, respectively, have a long and happy history of working together, and they’ve chalked up lots of mileage from reviving bits and pieces of old acts in revues they’ve created along the way. Given their expertise, it would be enlightening to see them perform some of the newer, living ones.
I hasten to write that while some of the routines they’ve chosen for their new 65-minute pastiche and its format may feel tired, Braithwaite and Childs certainly are not. They jump into revivals of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca and others with their unflagging verve – and honor those oldtimers with their own estimable talents.
Maybe the show would be more than simply amusing had Braithwaite and Childs chosen more expansive versions of the comedians they call favorites – or some of the lesser-known routines from folks like Bob & Ray or Carol Burnett than the ones they perform. As it is, Mike Nichols and Elaine May — we hardly get to know you from the little tastes in this smorgasbord, backed with solid pizzazz by pianist Owen Robbins and under Mary Carpenter’s direction.
It’s telling that the most successful piece is one I think Braithwaite and Childs put together themselves – a cruise-ship lounge-lizard act they perform at the end. It’s beautifully thought out and they nail down the characters, a lovey-dovey couple who just happen to have a song or 20 for you and you alone. Braithwaite and Childs give the piece plenty of time to develop with ideas that provide heft. What’s funniest to me is the great irony of the skit – in tone and format, it becomes a caricature of the show Braithwaite and Childs have been doing all along.
“A Few of Our Favorite Things,” a co-production of Act II Playhouse and 1812 Productions, runs through Jan. 28 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. in Ambler. 215-654-0200 or www.act2.org.
The show moves to Center City for a short run, Feb. 14 through Feb. 18, at 1812 Productions’ venue, Plays & Players, Delancey Place between 17th and 18th Streets. 215-592-9560 or 1812productions.org.