By Katie Winkler for GoUpstate.com
Flat Rock Playhouse’s mainstage production “Our Show of Shows” is not only a tribute to the great comedians of television’s golden age, but also a reminder of the great talent we have had, and still have, right here.
Bright new faces such as Rob McClure and Maggie Lakis join beloved actors such as Scott Treadway to help celebrate the Playhouse’s 60th anniversary with this variety show, directed by Vincent Marini, FRP’s artistic director.
As the crowd enters the theater, it is greeted by the mayhem that accompanies the taping of a TV show — crew members are running around, moving props and set pieces; actors in dressing gowns or costumes are milling about, yelling for quiet so mics can be checked. The audience feels transported back to the golden age of television, a studio audience arriving to see one of the most popular variety shows of all time.
For those, like me, who have never watched Sid Ceasar’s “Your Show of Shows” and might not know what to expect, Damian Duke Domingue’s prologue will be welcome, as he familiarizes the audience with the show and what role it will play. Subsequently, the audience is made to feel a part of the performance — pulled back in time and prepared to react to the sketches as a ’50s audience might react. One audience member describes the show as “an audience-oriented time capsule.”
After the entertaining setup, the audience is treated to nonstop laughter with nine sketches drawn from the original variety show that appeared on NBC from 1950-54. The star of the original show was Caesar, master of physical comedy, comedic timing and facial expressions, as well as his signature “double-talk” monologues. No better actor could have been chosen to portray this legendary performer than FRP veteran Treadway, who has proven himself a comic genius over and over to audiences at the Rock. Half of the well-chosen scenes highlight Your “Show of Shows” brand of physical humor that puts the audience in stitches. The opening scene, “This Is Your Story,” for example, spoofs that original reality show “This Is Your Life” with Treadway as the reluctant participant. His facial expressions, which we can see up close, just like on TV, thanks to the large screens flanking the stage, are classic Caesar, with that Treadway flare, of course. McClure, making his debut at Flat Rock Playhouse, displays his own phenomenal comic physicality, and the audience is soon in an uproar.
Treadway and McClure, joined by Preston Dyar as Carl Reiner, all display their comic prowess in the scene “The Three Haircuts,” a send-up of the early rock ’n’ roll trios, singing two of their “hits” — “You Are So Rare” and “Flippin’ Over You.”
This show is fun not only for physical comedy like this, but also for the interaction between characters that captures the culture of its time as well as the timelessness of
“Your Show of Shows” unique social satire. For example, a scene called “Weepy,” starring Treadway and Tom Wahl, last seen in last year’s “Shear Madness,” was particularly representative of the type of relational comedy for which “Your Show of Shows” is known.
In the skit, three couples going out for the evening are trying to decide what movie to see — an argument over the names of the dwarfs in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” ensues and is taken to extreme measures, causing us to laugh uproariously and shake our heads at our own foolish behavior, like when we get upset and argue over such petty things.
This point is also deftly made in the scene called “The Recital,” where the boorish behavior of a latecomer to a recital is intensified by an overly sensitive audience that amplifies, with the help of clever onstage special effects, every tiptoe, every tap, every scribble of a pencil. When something serious happens, the audience sees it as just another irritation, another interruption of its enjoyment. The point is driven home with one last laugh.
While Treadway, as Caesar, naturally dominates, the three women performers are standouts as well.
Lakis, also new to Flat Rock Playhouse, holds her own as a comedian and brings a poignant moment to the end of the scene “Breaking the News,” about a wife having to tell her husband (Treadway) of the “little” accident she had with the car. Her acting is superb in this scene, as is Treadway’s. Mary Ann Conk and Brenna Yeary bring the same comic precision and excellent acting as the others do, the whole ensemble tripping lightly between scenes, changing characters, and often dialects, as deftly as they do their costumes — sometimes right before our eyes.
At the end of the play, after the laughter has died down a bit, Treadway, the actor who so precisely has channeled Caesar for an hour and a half, offers the audience a musical tribute. Joined by the others and flanked by video of the real Sid Caesar, he reminds us why we should honor those who make us laugh: because they help us get away from the hardships of this life for a little while but bring us back to ourselves.