Broadway Bubbies | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Broadway Bubbies


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at the Briar Street Theatre

There is a lot to hate about Broadway Bubbies. The name, for one: an obvious ploy to attract bus loads of grandmothers from the northern suburbs. The show's slender, cynical premise is another. It's no more carefully thought out than the idea that if you "create" a musical revue of worn- out standards from the 30s and 40s ("Cocktails for Two," "Shine On Harvest Moon," "After You've Gone") and glue them together with just enough stale Jewish humor to justify the word "bubbies," you can make a whole lot of money selling an inferior (and very condescending) "entertainment" to elderly Jewish people happy just to get out of the house.

Not that you have to be Jewish to be bored by this show, but it helps to know a few Yiddishisms (schmatte, Oy-vay) and a few words from Jewish culture (Hadassah, kreplach soup, gefilte fish) so that you can understand just how tiresome and old the humor in this show is. Do we really need yet another bit about Jewish mothers and how seldom their children call them?

What the show lacks in originality it tries to make up for with a kitschy, desperate charm; Laurel Cronin's tearful rendition of "Ain't We Got Fun," for instance, or the group number in which Edie Adams "admits" she's envious of her less glamorous, more domestic friends (which we don't for a minute believe) and they in turn admit (this we believe) that they are envious of her. But more often than not, the humor descends to the adolescent level of Sharon Carlson's embarrassing version of "Makin' Whoopee." This involves--I kid you not--a whoopee cushion, which the otherwise dignified Ms. Carlson squeezes until it farts during the pause between the words "making" and "whoopee" in the chorus.

The show's most hateful aspect, however, is the way the producers use Edie Adams's celebrity to trick out this bill of goods. From the advertising for this show and the extra-large picture of her in the program (three times as large as any of the others), you could get the idea that Adams plays a major role. And she does make an appearance every four minutes or so, to half-sing/half-speak a song or tell a few tired stories about her life and her show-biz "friends." (Did you know that her "friend" George Burns is still quite spry, despite his age? Or that he loves his cigars?) But most of the real work, and hence most of the real entertaining--such as it is--is performed by the trio of actresses who get the tiny type in the ads and the smaller pix in the program: Carlson, Cronin, and Renee Matthews.

In fact, without these three to raise the show's energy level after one of Adams's dispiriting songs, this show would be nothing. It's Cronin, not Adams, who gets the laughs. (Most of Adams's humorous bits--including her "imitation" of Mae West and her even worse one of Sally Rand--fall flat.) And everyone else has a stronger voice and a more supple body--even the largish Cronin is charmingly graceful. Adams needs a microphone when she "sings," and she moves with the awkward, stiff gait of an old dancer who has injured herself one too many times.

Adams's act is a poignant reminder that time undoes even the best of us. "I don't worry about age," she tells us early in the show. "I just feel great." But her act shows that the years have caught up with her, and though she may feel great, she's a good three decades away from the lithe and sexy woman who launched a thousand cigars with the teasing line: "Why don't you pick one up and smoke it sometime?" She has little of the energy or charisma of the other actresses here, and the only reason she appears more glamorous is that she's the only one allowed to wear glitzy Las Vegas-style outfits. (One very odd number, consisting of a large black top worn over black tights and 60s-style black stiletto-heeled boots, makes her look for all the world like an elderly Blue Meanie.) It's hard to watch Adams's bathetic performance and not feel a little sad (there, but for the grace of God, goes my mother), especially when she sings "I'm living alone and I like it," and you realize it's been 30 years since Adams lost the love of her life--Ernie Kovacs, whose brilliant comic spirit is entirely missing from this show.

About the best thing that can be said of Broadway Bubbies is that it answers that age-old question "What's the difference between shtick and crapola?"

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