By Andrew Poretz . . .
“Kenn Boisinger” is the brilliant alter-ego concept of performer Michael West (NEWSical). The character is the “hair apparent” to the late, great Andy Kaufman and his Tony Clifton alter ego, except the Clifton character was an untalented and quite unpleasant blowhard, while Boisinger is a delight. Kenn’s masterful use of malapropisms is funny and consistent, and his original songs are, as Bania told Jerry on Seinfeld, comedy gold.
Plugged: The Birdlund Concert is a long time coming. “Kenn” had been killing it with sold-out shows at The Green Room 42 as well as 2019 Christmas show at Birdland. This show was originally scheduled for March 2020, but the Pandemic Pause of 2020 put the kibosh on that performance.
It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of this act. In 2019, this writer saw Michael West perform as his own opening act for Kenn. As himself, Michael performed straight, singing an unironic and sincere set of songs in his Goulet-ish baritone, sans wig and mustache. After an intermission, he returned wearing his now trademark wig and a stage mustache. The spirit gum did not survive the klieg lights, and the mustache slid off his mouth. Ultimately, he ditched the fake mustache, grew a real one, and apparently “fired” Michael West from the act.
For this sold-out show upstairs at Birdland, he put a fun twist on that concept. It was announced that Kenn was not ready, and Michael West was called to the stage. Michael, wearing a conservative outfit, sang “This is my day…” before being interrupted by the announcement that “Kenn” was ready. Michael left the stage, the band vamped for a couple of minutes, and Kenn Boisinger came out singing, now in a loud, “Vegas” dinner jacket and his “Kenn” wig. (Later in the show, he changed to a white Members Only jacket.)
Much of the material was familiar to the packed “Birdlund” audience – Kenn’s “greatest hits” are brilliant, comedic songs and screwball parodies that somehow never get old. He opened with “Tonight I’m Gonna Sing for You,” a faux Vegas song with a seemingly endless false ending that fools everyone every time. His next two numbers were parodies of jazz standards. In “It’s Lovely,” Kenn insists that Cole Porter’s “De-Lovely” was a typo. In his homage to the venue with “Lullaby of Birdland,” he exclaimed how thrilled he was “to shake with you fine people… I’m gonna need some Purell!” He announced his musical director and pianist, Alan Bukowiecki, adding, “And the bass guy and the drummer!” [Mike Preen and Joe Choroszewski].
As Kenn, Michael never breaks character. Kenn has an entire backstory, which he’ll bring up in his shows. [Prior to reviewing his 2021 Christmas show at The Laurie Beechman Theatre (read it HERE), I interviewed Kenn in character. That hilarious Zoom interview can be watched HERE.]
While his ditties have not yet reached the level of, say, an audience singing most of Springsteen’s songs back to him, it was great hearing some insanely wonderful Boisinger “standards” like the Frankie Lane-like “Third Rail”; “Is She A Call Girl, Or Just a Girl I’d Like To Call?”; “Daddy Drinks Because You Cry”; “Can Night at the Port of Authority,” and the hugely popular “Someone’s Always Dead At Manhattan Plaza.” Only Kenn could come up with “Dr. Zizmor: Did He Really See Them All?”, about retired Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Jonathan Zizmor, whose skincare ads were once ubiquitous on New York subways, and make it funny even to this writer’s guest, who was visiting from Sweden.
Kenn’s brilliant, faux poignant bit about his poor mother wearing lip gloss specked with orange Cheetos dust had the audience singing the refrain, “If there’s Cheetos on your lip gloss, praise the Lord.” (In a running gag, Kenn referenced nonsensical titles of albums he purportedly recorded. The realistic mockups for such “albums” as Kenn Boisinger Sings for Lutherans and Others got huge laughs.)
The star introduced, with uncharacteristic anxiety, his newest song, “The Last One to Leave the Strip Club.” He’d developed this for several years. Nervous he’d lose his place and forget the words, Kenn worried he’d repeat what happened to a certain star “singing ‘I’m Still Here’ at Carnegie Hall.” With nary a stumble, the song was the greatest highlight of the evening. He exuberantly exclaimed “’I’m Still Here’ my ass!”, and received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Though several of these songs can be seen or heard at Kennboisinger.com, sharing more than a handful of details would be too much of a spoiler for this unique, wonderful act. It is not to be missed!
Kenn Boisinger in Plugged: The Birdlund Concert took place on April 10 at Birdland Jazz (315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue (www.birdlandjazz.com).
Featured photo: Bill Selby