Saturday, September 17, 2011

No Letdown Stand-Up

No Letdown Stand-Up
By Tom Wachunas

“Comedy is exaggerated realism. It can be stretched to the almost ludicrous, but it must always be believable.” - Paul Lynde -

The raucous season-opening production of “3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down” at Akron’s Weathervane Playhouse is a veritable theatrical pastiche, deftly melding hilarious, bizarre satire with a story line that moves along at relentlessly rapid-fire pace. The show, originally created by Michael Rupert (music) and Jerry Colker (book and lyrics), ran for 160 off- Broadway performances in 1985 and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical.

Don’t be too thrown by the title. Yes, there are three men – total - in the cast. But beyond their progressively exposed egos, aspirations, and disillusionments, they don’t in fact get naked. This is a PG-13 story (language and thematic content) about Ted Klausterman, Kenny Brewster, and Phil Kunin – a New York City trio of stand-up comics whose meteoric rise to international celebrity, and subsequent flame-out, is alternately hysterical, pathetic, and poignant.

Marc Moritz directed this show, and he’s clearly let his cast, both as singers and actors, bring an exhilarating spontaneity to their respectively distinct performing styles, which in turn gives riveting credibility to their characters. And rest assured, these are three startlingly wild and crazy guys.

Rob Dougherty presents a remarkably finessed combination of optimistic charm and self- confidence in his role of comedy club emcee Ted Klausterman, the trio’s resourceful ‘leader,’ fascinating to watch as he vacillates, with maddening ease, between his own wisdom and the ludicrous choices he makes in his hunger for success. As Phil Kunin, hefty Patrick Ciamacco is commandingly funny even if he is the quintessential “angry guy” – a possible sociopath in the making if not already ripe. His street-wise, scary volatility is all the more intriguing as we watch him struggle to balance an insane career with his genuine longing to be with his family – conveyed with aching tenderness as he sings “A Father Now” late in the second act.

And speaking of scary volatility fused with tenderness, there’s Kenny Brewster, played to the hilt by Connor Simpson. The character is described as a “Zen Catholic,” which only somewhat explains his “conceptual” comedy routine. Simpson is nothing short of mesmerizing as he negotiates his character’s surreal disconnects from life as we know it, slipping in and out of various movie roles with the alacrity of a quick-change artist, and an inventory of voices to match. If chronic psychotic episodes can be said to be gut-splittingly funny, Brewster/Simpson’s your man. But there’s a darker underside to this pathology, colored by a desire to leave it all behind one way or the other, as Simpson sings with convincing, childlike pining in “Dreams of Heaven.”

Keyboardist Brad Wyner directs a small but razor-sharp live ensemble here, delivering a fully rich, energetic sound that’s always in fine balance with the impeccably enunciated singing. Arguably, the musical doesn’t yield memorable, anthemic songs with truly iconic melodies. But they do possess an appropriate, in-the-moment verve and theatricality – infectiously so - that effectively enhances the slap-stick, cabaret atmosphere.

For all of the masterful lampooning and satire we see here about show business and “The American Dream,” the story never succumbs to heavy-handed moralizing. Think of it as a tornadic, we’re-all-Bozos-on-this-bus tour through a country named Stand-Up Comedy. The authors of the written constitution for this particular country were surely inspired by the likes of The Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and Andy Kaufman. It’s a country where some laws of physics still hold true – the opposite of gravity is comedy; what goes up must come down; you’re not in Kansas anymore. Enjoy the ride.

Photo: from left to right, Connor Simpson as Kenny Brewster, Patrick Ciamacco as Phil Kunin, and Rob Dougherty as Ted Klausterman, in the Weathervane Playhouse production of “3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down.” Shows through September 25, 1301 Weathervane Lane, Akron. Performances are Thursday 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors and students for Thursday and Sunday performances, and $19.50 for children ages 17 and younger. For tickets, visit or call the box office at (330) 836 – 2626, or online at

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