“Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me” falls into a trap of its own making, and, to one degree or another, becomes much too similar to the thing it had initially set about to satirize.
In the case of the part-Irish comic, the target is the sort of one-person show performers are prone to do, exposing their mainly checkered pasts, making fresh capital from self-serving revelations about having risen above a history of alcoholism, mental illness, sexual compulsions, child abuse, and just about every ill which can possibly beset mankind.
Early in the show, the inherently affable Short, energetic to the point of seeming driven, tells his audience that since his life is idyllic, with a beloved wife and three perfect children, that he’s forced to make up a lot of “problems” in order to fulfill the requirements of the theatrical genre in which he is working.
Among the first ‘secrets” he shares with his bearers is that his father is a famous Irish-Canadian actor named Shim O’Short, about whom he spins a silly tale or two, without revealing the actual details of what the Irish side of his heritage was really like.
Short’s inherent frenetic stage persona, as he rushes from sketch to sketch and caricature to caricature seldom taking the time to let his scattershot one-liners and hasty impressions land and make their mark, has he ultimate effect of building a kind of wall between the actor and his audience.
“Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me” suffers enormously from bearing the marks of being a casually, even carelessly assembled project, as opposed to a high-concept assemblage put together by a team that knew from the outset precisely what its goals and objectives were.
Short’s show is a revue, much in the sense that the long-running “Spamalot,” playing just around the corner is, but any comparison of the two productions wouldn’t be particularly favorable to “Fame Becomes Me.”
Both shows have a kind of randomness, and each tends to divide its audiences into two camps, one made up of people who are deeply familiar with he material at hand, and the other composed of theatergoers who know little or nothing about what they are going to see when they enter the theater.
Among the familiar roles the actor takes on, probably the most familiar, and the one the audience is happiest to see, is the inept television interviewer, complete with fat suit and artificial chin.
This particular “character” invites a “celebrity” from the audience to join him on stage for a brief exchange. On opening night, the “guest” was Nathan Lane and, on another occasion, actress Cynthia Nixon.
At the performance I’m describing, the best Short’s people could come up with was Rip Taylor, a confused-seeming “comic” in a ghastly blonde wig, which is apparently part of his act. On the night at hand, he appeared not to know where he was or why he was there. Short, in his fat suit, made quick work of him, understandably enough.
Short’s show, which bears the subtitle “A Comedy Musical,” in case the audience doesn’t quite get it, is credited as having been written by the comic in collaboration with Daniel Goldfarb, conceived by him along with Scott Wittman, helped along with “additional material” by Alan Zweibel. Music and arrangements are the work of composer Marc Shaiman, best-known for his contributions to “Hairspray,’ with lyrics by Shaiman and Wittman.
The product onstage at the recently renamed Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, formerly the Plymouth, may be a case of “too many cooks,” or possibly Short’s basic idea wasn’t strong enough to serve as an armature for the work of all of these motley “collaborators.”
The comic’s one-man show actually employs a supporting cast of five, including Shaiman, who serves as onstage pianist. The others are Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong, Capathia Jenkins and Nicole Parker.
All of them work like Trojans, but in the main they score only briefly and seem weighted down by the sluggishness and sloppiness of the material with which they’ve been saddled.
Ashmanskas is briefly amusing when, on stilts, he impersonates director Tommy Tune and Birdsong, who, on her own, goes a full evening in which she impersonates Judy Garland, reprises her take on the singer when she shares the stage for a sketch based on “The Wizard of Oz,” with Short playing a picket fence.
Parker has a slightly creepy moment in which she plays a rather deranged-seeming Renee Zellwegger sharing an “awards ceremony” moment with birdsong’s rather flat take on Jodie Foster.
The only supporting performer in “Fame Becomes Me” who really rings the bell in the ample and big-voiced Jenkins, who late in the show, belts a number about producers who save their shows by bringing on “a big, black lady” with a song. Jenkins, who brings with her a kind of built-in generosity, does pretty much bring “Fame Becomes Me” to a brief, screeching halt, which in its way, points up the unfortunate fact that nobody else, Martin Short very much included, has managed that particular feat.
Then, too, there is the question of taste and freshness. Short has been unwise enough to include a sketch in which he impersonates the late Katharine Hepburn, complete with the Parkinsonian head tremble which plagued her in her later years.
In a skit about a celebrity heaven, there’s a brief joke about the inhabitants occupation with “waiting for Fidel.”
The show’s satiric targets, for the most part, have a shopworn quality. What comic could, at this point, make much of the dual marriages of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, or of any aspect of the life and times of Joan Rivers?
Short, whose previous Broadway experiences have included an uninspired revival of Cy Coleman’s “Little Me,” and a poorly conceived musical version of Neil Simon’s movie comedy, “The Goodbye Girl,” in which he was paired, with a notable lack of ‘chemistry,” with Bernadette Peters.
The small, graceful Canadian performer made out considerably better a couple of seasons ago, when he did the late Jerry Orbach’s role in an “Encores!” revival of the Burt Bacharach-Mack David musical, “Promises, Promises” at the City Center.
Martin Short has, at his core, a lovable, and almost sweet quality which might serve him, and his audience, well, if only he’d slow down and take a breath, instead of dashing in panic from sketch to impression to punch line, as though the sword of Damocles were hanging just a few inches above his head.
“Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me,” alas, is a show that stops in its tracks, turns and bites itself, becoming in the process the very thing it set about to skewer in the first place.