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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Ha! Comedy Club (off-Bway)

By David Lefkowitz

  Don’t Quit Your Night Job/Photo: Monique Carboni

When Jed Bernstein was just a year into his tenure as executive director of the League of American Theaters and Producers (the folks who present and regulate Broadway shows), he granted me a radio interview and outlined what he hoped to accomplish. The former ad exec seemed a man eager to make changes to the status quo while still tethered to the magic he felt attending theater as a child during the tail end of Broadway's golden age. He wanted to turn national tours into a cash cow (mission accomplished), make Broadway as popular as the movies (not exactly), and get the lady ushers out of their black shrouds (didn't happen).

Bernstein's efforts to popularize and take the stiffness out of the commercial theater experience are on view in his first venture since leaving the League last year. He's producing Don't Quit Your Night Job, a comedy cabaret located in the cavernous basement of the Ha! Comedy Club in midtown. The appealing idea essentially takes the theater games of "Whose Line is it Anyway?," makes them very Broadway-centric, and triples the cast by adding a guest roster of Broadway performers slumming on their off-nights or after matinees.

In cooking up Don't Quit, Bernstein was surely influenced by those Village-y, after-hours nightclub shows of yesteryear, where sophisticated regular theatergoers could catch Broadway stars cutting loose with a song or two, young comedians polishing their acts and improv troupes honing their chops. Whether that feeling can be recaptured in a Times Square more Red Lobster than Richard Rodgers remains to be seen. Forbidden Broadway has been embraced by the Bridge-and-Tunnel crowd, but that generally brilliant, fully-scripted show plays like an off-Broadway musical. Night Job's skits can't help but be hit-or-miss, and its casualness feels a tad grubby against its price range of $35-55 plus a two-drink minimum. (By contrast, the celeb-less Chicago City Limits is $15.)

On the Saturday evening I attended, the funniest bits included Jersey Boys' Dan Reichert trying to guess which famous person he was from questions asked by three newspaper reporters (answer: Helen Keller, newly cast in A Chorus Line ), and Christopher Sieber giving his all during a Mad-Lib-filled rendition of "All I Care About" from Chicago.

Other bits suffered from format familiarity (a 60-second Wicked ; a bakery sketch done in different theatrical styles), but then again, on another night with other casts, those might be the highlights. I did enjoy Hunter Foster's recollections of flubs that occurred when he was appearing in the last Grease revival, though again, that may be better fodder for Broadway Chatterbox than this kind of cabaret.

Still, if Americans can warm to costly hybrid cars, who's to say they won't do the same for pricey hybrid comedy shows? I'm still on the fence for both and await something newer and more effective.


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