by: Samuel L. Leiter
Happy 50ish, a two-man musical comedy at the Beckett about what men have to look forward to when they age, is a consistently entertaining and occasionally hilarious distraction from the summer doldrums. It’s the kind of show that, had it been seasoned with a splash of Yiddish-flavored stage sauce, would have had midcentury Borscht Belt audiences laughing till the tears ran down their legs. The jokes may be hoary, but if they make us laugh at our universal condition, more power to them.
The piece is set on the back porch (designed and lit by Christopher Ash) of a guy named Bob (Lynn Shore) who’s being thrown a fiftieth birthday party by his wife (unseen). When she’s delayed in getting there, Bob and good friend Mike (Mark Vogel) fill the time by sniping in song (and a smidgen of dance) about what turning fifty means. Some of the hilarity is muted by the choice of fifty—when many men are in their prime—as a watershed year; so many geriatric concerns are cited that Bob seems ready for assisted living. Is fifty now the new seventy?
Shore and Vogel, who, with David Burnham, wrote the book, music, and lyrics for this fast-moving, ninety-minute, intermissionless show, are engagingly versatile singers, musicians, and comics. Vogel accompanies the songs on a keyboard, where Shore joins him for a rousing go at “Chopsticks,” but Shore also displays his chops on a harmonica and electric guitar. Much of the music has a golden oldies vibe but nicely captures the feeling of a sentimentalized past that’s receding faster than a middle-aged man’s hairline.
Bob, a bald, beer-drinking everyguy dressed in shorts, a sports team shirt (which he switches for a “Happy 50ish” polo), and sneakers, is in the vise-like grip of a midlife crisis. Mike, his suspiciously blonde mop worn in a Beatles bowl cut, is doing all he can to cheer his buddy up, including breaking the fourth wall to help the audience feel part of the party. Be prepared: there’s some sing-along so you may want to brush up on the “Green Acres” theme song.
Most of the fun comes from the bouncy songs and larky lyrics; bodily functions and sex are prime targets, but even the raunchier or more scatological bits steer clear of outright vulgarity. Let’s just say it’s clean dirty fun. If there’s anything that might piss off the elderly (assuming they can pee), you’ll find it here, whether it be related to changes in one’s appearance, the decline of one’s faculties, being invited to join AARP, the idea of becoming a grandparent, or even young people’s preoccupation with social media. Some of this is overly familiar, of course, but that doesn’t prevent your funny bone from being tickled by several seriously funny riffs, like the one about the effects of an enlarged prostate, another about what a colonoscopy entails, and the extended (in more ways than one) sequence with a long blue balloon revealing what happens when you overdose on Viagra.
You don’t have to be 50ish to enjoy Happy 50ish.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel
410 West Forty-Second Street, NYC
Through August 30 www.happy50ishmusical.com