As Jennifer Childs and Tony Braithwaite entered the stage on either side of the audience in their black-tie attire, greeting unsuspecting members, I found myself settling in and expecting a fun cabaret-style evening with a few witty quips thrown in, song parodies, etc. What I got, however, was considerably more. Not only is the chemistry brilliant between Childs and Braithwaite, but the precision with which they deliver their original songs and one-of-a-kind renditions of old favorites creates an hilarious and ridiculous journey through the world of American celebrity. This piece, created entirely by the pair, follows their wildly successful original cabaret LET’S PRETEND WE’RE MARRIED. Because it is abundantly clear they love what they do, it’s basically impossible for an audience not to follow suit.
The pair starts out the show poring through letters addressed to “Julia Childs” and “Tony Bathwater,” among others, as they realize that their invited guests for the evening- Meryl Streep, Chase Utley, Ringo Starr- will, sadly, not lend their fame to the evening because they “don’t know who (you) are.” This sets up their series of wild explorations of what it means to be famous, infamous, and one-hit wonders, including original interpretations of “Everything’s Coming up Roses” (Hold on to your hat, Mama Rose!), Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington,” “Swinging on a Star,” and many others.
What I most enjoyed in this series of vignettes was both performers’ abilities to shift quite seamlessly from song parody to direct address of the audience, accompanied by the lovely stylings of accompanist and musical director, Owen Robbins. A few stellar moments included Jen’s rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” as she sarcastically belted: “Did you ever know that I’M your hero? I’m everything…. YOU wish you could be.” Chiding aside, even the Divine Ms. M. herself couldn’t help but be charmed by Childs. Braithwaite matches this brilliance, too, as he shifts from Al Jolson, to George Burns, to Jay Leno and a seemingly unlimited host of characters, never losing his inherent charm as TB. Another shining moment included a visit from TB & Jenny: the pair’s alter-ego lounge act, as they take the audience through their relationship in a series of song parodies including “Fame” to “On my Own,” to the ridiculous Peaches and Herb song “Re-united.”
Hands-down my favorite portion of the evening, however, was when the house lights suddenly came up as the pair revealed that one lucky audience member would be given their “15 minutes of fame”. From the Joan Rivers red carpet to the fall from grace in (pasta) rehab, unsuspecting audience member “Dennis the Plumber” experienced it all as Childs and Braithwaite gently guided this “star” through the winding road of fame. And it was priceless.
One thing that I notice, and appreciate about every 1812 production I’ve seen is the fact that, yes, these shows are funny- but there’s so much heart and clever relevance to virtually every reference that adds an interesting depth as well. Case in point- a song that seemingly comes out of nowhere near the end – Jen’s rendition of “Ordinary Mothers”- quite clearly has such significance for her as a parent, and her ability to switch from “Bahbwa Wahwas” (Read: Barbara Walters), shtick to a surprisingly real intensity is remarkable to watch.
The scenic design by Adam Riggar and lighting by Shelley Hicklin was clean, cabaret- appropriate (alternating curtains illuminated by flashing bulbs) and perfectly accentuated the performances without detracting. Projection screens were used briefly and hilariously to compliment this 1 hour and 15 minute production with no intermission.
The pair runs the gamut of “celebrity” from Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to Hollywood Golden Age celebs. That being said, a few references to famous folks may well go over a few (younger) heads: i.e.- Gracie Allen, George Burns, and the delightful conclusion of the show in which the two take on Judy Garland and Fred Astaire’s “Couple of Swells” top hat and cane routine. However, the vibrancy and clarity with which all these characters are performed makes it ideal for all ages.
I laughed so hard I was “BRAITH-less;” it really brought out the “CHILDS” in me. (Sorry, 1812, I couldn’t resist (NOTE: I did actually laugh so hard that my companion had to ask if I was “ok”)). Bottom-line: Clever writing, even more brilliant delivery. If nothing else, seeing Braithwaite’s spot-on impression of Regis Philbin is completely worth the price of admission alone.
LET’S PRETEND WE’RE FAMOUS
Created by and Starring Jennifer Childs and Tony Braithwaite
Musical Director & Accompanist Owen Robbins
Assistant Director Monica Stephenson
March 6 – March 25, 2012
Plays & Players Theatre
1714 Delancey St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103