Better late than never for septuagenarians Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, who are finally making their Broadway debut in their theatrical magnum opus, Oh, Hello on Broadway. These crotchety Upper West Siders — famed for their cult favorite, public access TV show Too Much Tuna — are infusing the rarified confines of the Lyceum Theatre with a distinct Borscht Belt sensibility. Not to mention the funniest show in town.
If you’re not familiar with the duo, perhaps you know their alter egos. They’re comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, respectively, and they’ve been playing these characters for over a decade on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show and in other venues. Last winter, they made their New York theatrical debut at off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre in a limited run that quickly sold out.
Now they’ve hit the big time, in a production directed by Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), featuring a lavish set designed by Scott Pask. The set is a bit second-hand, however, containing alleged bits and pieces from The Cosby Show, the Broadway revival of Steel Magnolias and even a trap door from The Diary of Anne Frank.
Don’t go looking for much of a plot in this stand-up comedy routine dressed up as theater. What little there is has to do with the hapless pair facing a rent increase for their Upper West Side apartment (“the coffee breath of neighborhoods”) and Gil’s lingering bitterness over having lost the opportunity to become the “official voice of CBS.”
Clad in horrible wigs, cheap spectacles and ill-fitting clothes (with Kroll’s shirttail peeking out through his open fly), the thirtysomething comedians aren’t exactly convincing in their alte kacker personas. But that’s half the fun. The evening is structurally ragged, composed of tenuously related blackout sketches, improvised bits and an interview segment featuring a different special guest at every show. At the reviewed performance, it was Josh Groban, who good-naturedly kibitzed with the two characters before being presented with a grotesquely oversized tuna fish sandwich (the duo’s trademark). The singer even took them up on their invitation to perform, belting out an aria on the subject of “too much tuna.”
The show features one hilarious one-liner after another (“Fun fact for today … I am on competing medications,” George informs us, in an example of the non sequitur style), gleefully taking potshots at such theatrical devices as the overly expository “one-sided phone call.” You’ll have to be on your toes to catch the spoofing of Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays, Jeremy Piven’s mercury poisoning and Griffin Dunne’s geographical qualification for being a “New York actor.” There’s also a “surrealist ballet” and amusing special effects designed by master puppeteer Basil Twist.
Not all the jokes land, with running gags about such subjects as raccoons, Steely Dan and Gil and George’s exploitation of their unseen intern, “Ruvi,” wearing out their welcome. Running 100 minutes without intermission, the show could use some pruning. But it hardly matters when the jokes come this fast and furious.
“Theater is the hot new thing right now,” says George. “There’s Hamilton … and no other examples.” But the audiences rolling with laughter at Oh, Hello on Broadway will surely beg to disagree.
Venue: Lyceum Theatre, New York
Cast/writers: Nick Kroll, John Mulaney
Director: Alex Timbers
Set designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: Emily Rebholz
Lighting designer: Jake DeGroot
Sound designer: M.L. Dogg
Nightmare effect designer: Basil Twist
Presented by Patrick Catullo, Marcia Goldberg, Barbara Whitman, Marc Platt, Pierce Cravens, James G. Kernochan, Jonathan Reinis, Benjamin Simpson & Joseph Longthorne/Shira Friedman, Triptyk Studios, Bellanca Smigel Rutter, Nathan Verno, Mike Lavoie, and Comedy Central