A gleeful revival of a musical that still manages to keep audiences laughing.
by Joel Benjamin
It’s impossible to imagine a more talented and energetic a cast than the five brilliant actors who reprised their roles in the off-Broadway hit, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! at Feinstein’s/54 Below. They made up the entire original cast of the show which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. The way they breezed through the show, with David Evans nimbly tinkling the ivories, made it seem as if they had just come out of the stage door a few minutes ago and decided to run through the show one more time.
Conceived and written by Douglas Bernstein and Rob Krausz with songs by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!, starred stage veterans Jason Graae, Mary Testa, Tovah Feldshuh, Stephen Berger and Paul Kreppel all of whom gleefully took the stage of Feinstein’s/54 Below. They performed the show with each supplying enough tidbits of the plot to give some context to the absurdly witty songs that traced the life of Barry Bockman (Graae), son of Harvey (Kreppel) and Sheila (Feldshuh).
The songs, well known by anyone who lived through the sixties, put new lyrics to old music, most of it in the public domain, such as the “Opening Goulash” to one of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances,” in which the cast humorously introduces the plot. This was followed by the infant Barry dueting with Sarah (Testa) in “Sarah Jackman” (to “Frère Jacques”). You get the picture.
We follow Barry to school where Testa and Feldshuh submit their history paper in the form of “Won’t You Come Home, Disraeli” and then to the famous Camp Granada where Barry sings his comic lament, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” complaining about his first day at the camp. He meets a girl with braces (Feldshuh) who is quite shy and clumsy: “I Can’t Dance” (to Grieg).
Then it’s on to dating and then the wedding where outgoing—read obnoxious—Uncle Phil (Berger) does Catskill shtick in the form of “Phil’s Medley.” Of course, what’s a wedding without “Hava Nagilah,” this time as an audience participation version, “Harvey and Sheila.”
Then it’s a move to the suburbs, children and various forms of change and burnout. For widowed Sheila, it’s travel (“Mexican Hat Dance”). For Mr. Goldfarb (Kreppel), it’s the total acceptance and enjoyment of his wife’s ever-expanding waistline (“Grow, Mrs. Goldfarb”). For Sarah it’s a trip to the City (“Crazy Downtown”) and for Barry it’s a re-evaluation of his life, “Did I Ever Really Live?” (written with Albert Hague), a bittersweet ballad that attained some status as a pop/jazz standard.
Jason Graae sang that last song with such tenderness that its dark mood didn’t seem out of place.
After the famous “Ballad of Harry Lewis” (“He was trampling through the warehouse where the drapes of Roth are stored”!) the troupe ran through a medley of famous Allan Sherman songs: “Gimme Jack Cohen,” “God Bless You, Gerry Mendelbaum,” “Mamma’s Little Baby Loves Matzo, Matzo” and, finally “Comin’ Through the Rye” (“Customers should see salami coming through the rye”) and “Don’t Buy the Liverwurst”!
This was an upbeat, deliciously entertaining evening with end-to-end laughs. The smooth professionalism of the five stars and Mr. Evans was awe inspiring as was this entire program.
Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!—25th Anniversary Reunion Concert took place July 24 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue). www.54Below.com