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Oh, Hello on Broadway

Nick Kroll and John Mulaney in Oh, Hello on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Nick Kroll and John Mulaney  (Photo: Joan Marcus)


                                      By Ron Cohen


The fun stuff at Oh, Hello on Broadway starts with the Playbill. As expected, it contains headshots of the show’s two creators and performers, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, but under their photos, are two much more recognizable guys you didn’t know had anything at all to do with the production: John Slattery and Jon Hamm. These two, we’re told, are understudies. Regarding his understudy duties, Slattery’s program bio informs us that “he is currently starring in The Front Page with Nathan Lane and John Goodman, which is going to be inconvenient.” Hamm’s bio, in a humbler vein, simply says he “would like to thank ‘The Boys’ for this wonderful opportunity.”


And from then on, the laughs, the howls, the giggles, the chortles – or whatever you want to call them -- keep coming. As you may well know by now, Kroll and Mulaney, who are in their 30s, play two grizzled, somewhat addled but so self-assured septuagenarians, Gil Faizon and George St Geegland, who share a rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They’ve been inhabiting and shaping these characters for over a decade on comedy stages, television and last fall in an acclaimed Off-Broadway show.


In a sort of stand-up prologue, the characters tell us about themselves. Faizon is an actor with such high ideals that he walked out of a commercial audition for Clamato, the clam-and-tomato juice concoction. He is a self-described “Tony Award viewer.” St. Geegland is a novelist and, with the slightest of grins, relates that he has been married three times, and each of his wives died mysteriously on the same staircase. Not much more is said about these wives, as Faizon and St. Geegland move on to present a play they’ve written, which Pirandello-like, is about two grizzled guys who share a rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Except in the play, the actor Gil Stone, played by Faizon, is 40 years old. Faizon in actorly fashion, brushes aside protest that he can’t play forty.


Their play – exceeding the expectations for a Broadway show, we’re told –has a set, and what a set it is. Merrily designed by Scott Pask, it’s purported to be a jumble of pieces from past productions; i.e., the hair dryers from Steel Magnolias, a chair from Ionesco’s The Chairs. And yes, the mention of Ionesco gets a laugh from the audience, and why shouldn’t it? As St. Geegland describes the audience at one point, it’s made up of “comedy nerds and theater dorks.” One section of the show is devoted to examples of dramaturgical clichés: the one-sided telephone call, the vague curtain line spoken in dim light, all to the appreciative delight of the knowing audience. In addition to the many theatrical references, Faizon and St. Geegland (or perhaps more correctly Kroll and Mulaney) also find the fun spots in such New York institutions as rent control, the television channel NY1, Times Square and Rudy Giuliani. (Miraculously and happily, the performance reviewed had no Trump or Clinton jokes. What a relief!)


Some of the jokes are indeed revelatory, some familiar, some just silly, and you’re never going to believe that the nimble Kroll and Mulaney, in what looks like dime-store makeup and wigs, are physically anywhere near 70. However, everything registers with an air of free-wheeling hilarity that’s irresistible. Also adding to the fun – almost subliminally – is the tendency of the two actors to utter words with peculiar pronunciations. Broadway becomes something like Brudway, and telephone, telefun.


The plot of the play-within-the-play involves an eviction notice, the sudden success of the men’s public access television show called Too Much Tuna, the compromises such fame brings, and finally, of course, the revealing of a long-buried secret. There’s also a section that depicts a broadcast of Too Much Tuna, which brings to the stage at each performance a different guest star to be interviewed. At the show seen, it was a genial Alex Brightman, the Tony-nominated lead from School of Rock. Brightman notes his own show is dark on this night. Does that mean it’s gone to an all-black cast, he’s asked.


There’s also a second act “nightmare ballet,” complete with clouds of stage smoke and a wondrous Too Much Tuna scene curtain (designed by Basil Twist), which manages to be tacky, spectacular and hilarious all at the same time.


Director Alex Timbers, whose credits range from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Here Lies Love to Rocky, has infused the show with a breezy pace that still gives Kroll and Mulvaney all the time and space they need to fire off and sometimes even think up on the spot their barrage of gags, wisecracks and rib-ticklers.


Playing at the Lyceum Theatre

149 West 45th Street

212 239 6200

Playing until January 8