The Big Bang
In the beginning there was the Big Bang, and then free food and frontal nudity, also called the Garden of Eden. Or that’s how it goes in a zany 70-minute show called The Big Bang, settled into the Kimmel Center for an October run.
Any show whose lyrics rhyme Caesar and geezer has me as its sucker, but Jed Feuer’s music and Boyd Graham’s lyrics and script hooked me for much more than the show’s slick wordplay. The whole concept is a hoot. We’re all supposed to be sitting in the Park Avenue living room of a wealthy couple while two characters — named Jed and Boyd, like the authors — and their pianist hold what’s called a “backers’ audition.” They’re trying to get our money to back their new Broadway show.
That’s The Big Bang, at $83.5 million, more costly than Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Its cast of more than 300 will wear 6,000 or so costumes plus assorted prosthetic devices. The show covers history, from the theoretical bang through the 20th century, and runs 12 hours. We, the prosepctive backers, get the highlights.
The Big Bang — the 70-minute show, not the 12-hour one — has been done here before, in 2005 at the Kimmel and three years later, at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse. It’s been slightly updated to include current references, but most of the script has been left alone; Adam still flirts with Eve, Atilla remains a real Hun and Columbus still has to convince Queen Isabella that he’s on the right course.
This production has an A-list creative team and cast: Richard M. Parison Jr. (he staged one of the nation's first 40th-anniversary renditions of Hair, at the Prince) directs, and the all-around theater artist Karen Getz choreographs. Sonny Leo is at the keyboards throughout and the two producers seeking our bones for their spectacular dog are among the region’s most visible performers, Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble.
Braithwaite and Dibble have a great time, pulling down curtains in the apartment’s living room for costumes, turning a lampshade, umbrellas, cushions, even fly swatters into props. The two are natural partners, playing off one another, setting their timing with the same internal watch, and distressing a wealth of accents depending on the characters they’re showing off in 15 songs, plus one, a Woodstock number, cut short by the plot. Each of these songs is its own little performance bit; for me, they conjured good memories, because they come off much like the funny musical skits we used to see on the best written and performed TV variety shows.
Braithwaite makes an exasperated Mother Mary in verse (“after the loaves and the fishes, guess who did all the dishes"), Dibble a regretful Eva Braun cursing her Hitler (“I’m just a girl who can’t say nein.”) They are Pocahontas and Minnehaha, complaining “with no reservation” about the men in their lives. They are two overworked chefs cooking for their gourmand king, Henry VIII.
In another scene they also rhyme schlepper with leper. OK. I’m sold.
Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble Are a Blast in THE BIG BANG!
Part paean to Pop culture, part parody of big-budget Broadway musicals, part revival of Borscht-Belt humor of the '50s and '60s, and one hundred percent entertaining, THE BIG BANG is back in Philadelphia by popular demand. The current revival at the Kimmel Center features the original 2004 award-winning cast of Philly favorites Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble, accompanied by musical director/pianist Sonny Leo. The plot of this zany musical comedy is rooted in the all-too-common misconception that the more money you spend on a theatrical production, the better it will be (witness Broadway's very expensive but much maligned SPIDER-MAN).
Presented in the format of a play-within-a-play, a pair of overly zealous producers, Jed (Dibble) and Boyd (Braithwaite), pitch an $83,500,000 twelve-hour musical history of the world to an audience of prospective funders–unwittingly played by the actual audience. The two energetic cohorts take on all the roles of their historical characters, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, in a frenetically condensed one-hour backers' audition. Appropriating the Upper East Side apartment of the vacationing Dr. Sid and Sylvia Lipbalm (whose cat they were entrusted to feed), the high-strung duo cleverly uses the household décor and accoutrements as makeshift costumes and props, with an upside-down lampshade serving as Nefertiti's headpiece, a metal colander as Attila the Hun's helmet, and open umbrellas providing hoops for an improvised antebellum skirt.
The side-splitting performances by Braithwaite and Dibble combine animated song-and-dance numbers, quick changes, direct interaction with the audience, and spot-on comedic timing, as they satirize such noted historic personages as the Virgin Mary, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Napoleon and Josephine, Pocahontas and Minnehaha, Mahatma Gandhi's mother, and Eva Braun. Their tongue-in-cheek spoofs of outrageous, outdated, anachronistic stereotypes will have you laughing out loud in spite of your better judgment about political correctness. Among the funniest scenes is a conversation between Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella, whose 'Spanglish' is loaded with malapropisms and double-entendres.
A tastefully appointed set design by Bradley Helm captures the upscale ambiance of a Park Avenue penthouse, replete with a Warhol-style portrait and a spectacular sunset view of Manhattan. Non-stop choreography by Karen Getz and rapid-fire direction by Richard Parison keep the actors moving, and the audience laughing, from one hilarious scene to the next.
I can't remember when I've had so much fun!
AOL Travel Board
I can't remember when I've had so much fun - and laughed continuously (along with those around me) - as I did on Wednesday night for the opening of the Center City run (through October) of the musical comedy The Big Bang starring two of my favorite Philly actors: Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble (who I will refer to as B&D). This show played at the Kimmel about five years ago and then moved to the Act II Theater in Ambler. I missed it both times so this was my first BB experience. And it is an "experience" (a wonderful one). Though it lasts less than 70 minutes, there's more packed into this show than in many much longer productions. And I'm not sure that these two actors - who hold the stage, nonstop, with only pianist Sonny Lee to support them - are exhausted after the show. Just the final number "Twentieth Century" would wear out a performer with its fast and zany lyrics.
The show's plot is a cousin to both Mel Brooks' "The Producers" (film, play and then film again) and Brooks' "The History of the World, Part I" (though this goes right up to today.) With the exception of a few recent topical references (for which B&D received permission with the play's original authors: Jed Feuer and Boyd Graham) this is exactly the same show that played at the Kimmel and Act II. The huge set fits perfectly in the Innovation Theatre in the Kimmel's sub-basement and the sight lines are great because there are only a dozen rows of chairs. (Oh yes, there was one more change: the real "Producers" of this production at the Kimmel -Berne Siergief and Anne Dunnington, known collectively as The Bernann Company, are immortalized in the Warhol-style pop-art painting prominently placed on apartment wall.)
So, what is the plot? B&D (as the characters Jed and Boyd!) are holding a backer's audition in a swanky Manhattan apartment for a new Broadway musical (and you - the audience are the prospective producers). This music covers the history of civilization, runs 12 hours, features 300 cast members and uses 6,000 costumes. And it's budgeted at $83 million! In the 70 minutes allotted, B&D trim it down some, singing only 15 songs, using only two actors (themselves) and yet seemingly using most of those 6,000 hysterically costumes, crafted from many of the objects found in any upscale NY apartment. (I won't give any of this away since it's so much fun to discover it for yourself!
These two talented guys - did I mention that Dibble also plays the trumpet? - along with pianist Leo will provide you with an uplifting evening during these "reversionary" times.
Playhouse's hokey world history packs a big bang of fun
Douglas J. Keating
Here's the deal. You've gone to Act II Playhouse in Ambler to see a show called The Big Bang, but you find that you are in a swank New York apartment attending a backers audition for a proposed Broadway musical that, surprise, has the same title as the show you've come to see.
And what an ambitious musical it is! It aims to cover the history of the world from it's origins of the universe until almost yesterday; will cost $83.5 million; will have a cast of 318. But since these two guys who hope to put on the showdon't have monet to hire actors to preview it for potential backers, they announce that they, with only the help of a piano player, are going to perform a sampling of numbers themselves.
And off they go, taking the audience through the funniest, most spirited and downright goofy 80-minute survey of history we've ever seen. By the time the "audition" comes to an abrupt end, you wouldn't give these "producers" a cent for their ridiculous historical epic, but you'll certainly be glad you invested in a ticket at Act II.
In other words, The Big Bang is a big hoot. The songs around which the absurd historical vignettes are built have lively music by Jed Feuer, but most entertaining is their unfailing wit: Boyd Graham, who also wrote the comical book puts the songs in context, is a top notch humorist.
Local actors Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble are terrific as the egar-to-please producers. Braithwaite has made a reputation as one of the area's best comic actors, and dibble, who has heretofore been known as a lead singer and actor, is pretty much his match. Under the able direction of Richard M. Parison Jr., they bring unflagging energy and comic flair to a plethora of parts as the "producers" make quick costume changes and morph into zany incarnations of historical characters.
As they zip through history they become Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden and regretting the loss of it, as the title of one of Graham's best songs puts it, "Free Food and Frontal Nudity"; Julius Caesar ignoring a soothsayer warning him in comic Italian accent of the Mafia-like plot against him; Pocahantas and Minnie-Ha-Ha in a Manhattan bar )the Algonquin, natch) lamenting the lack of decent braves to date, and most bizaarely, an Irish peasant at the start of the potato famine holding a spud, looking in its "eyes" and lamenting in song that it may very well be his last potato.
Some of the situations, and the performances of them, are excessively silly, buts that to be expected in such a relentless barrage. Most often this little musical gets Act II's season off with the Big Bang it promises, and very early in the schedule sets an awfully high bar for other theatres to match.
J. Cooper Robb
Not since Batman and Robin donned their leotards has there been a duo as dynamic (or campy) as Ben Dibble and Tony Braithwaite in The Big Bang, a marvelously asinine one-act musical at Act II Playhouse. A hilarious parody of the musical theatre business. Bang is similar to The Producers, which starred the last great team in musical theatre, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. But where Broderick and Lane portrayed an unethical impresario and accountant trying to mount a huge flop, Jed (Dibble) and Boyd (Braithwaite) are a pair of entrepreneurial showman seeking investers for the world's most expensive musical. Previewing the production for potential backers, the two play all 318 roles in their proposed show -which covers the entire history of the world. Featuring 17 pun-filled songs by Jed Feuer and Boyd Graham, Bang is little more than a series of silly skits loosely strung together by Graham's meager book. Yet while most shows with this construction are hit-and-miss, here everything works. Whether Dibble and Braithwaite are portraying a pair of Jewish slaves toiling on the Sphinxes, the Virgin Mary and Mrs. Ghandi discussing their son's unusual behavior, or Pocahontas and her friend Mini Ha-ha sipping cocktails in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, the two display the same easy rapport found in such legendary buddy teams as Abbott and Costello and Newman and Redford. In addition to the spectacular stars, Richard Parison's inspired direction, Karen Getz's choreography and Colleen McMillian's immensely inventive costumes (including a coquettish gown fashioned out of a large tablecloth and two umbrellas) add immeasurably to the production's sense of unmitigated joy. Bang is an instant classic that's so brilliantly stupid it'll leave you amazed at how much fun pure idiocy can be.
"Big Bang" explodes with big belly laughs
Chestnut Hill Local
It's short. It's smart. It's funny. It's about the most fun I've had in the theatre in eons.
"It" is The Big Bang, the two person musical that Act II Playhouse in Ambler is presenting through Oct 10.
The Big Bang cast the audience members as prospects at a backers' audition of what is modestly described as "The most expensive Broadway musical ever written. Twelve hours of pure entertainment, shown in four three-hour installments.
"It encompasses the entire history of civilization from the dawn of time 'til the present day. No expense has been spared. Budgeted at $83.5 million, it has a cast of 318 performers, 6,428 costumes, 1,400 wigs, 302 prosthetic devices, and lavish sets."
The backers audition takes place in the Lipbalms' lavish Manhattan apartment. They are away on a two-week trip to Israel, and The Big Bang's creators, Jed Feuer and Boyd Graham, have invited their prospects to an audition at which they will perform all the parts in excerts from the show.
It's really funny stuff. Composer Jed Feuer and author/lyricist Boyd Graham are the authors of The Big Bang, so there's really a good chance they've experienced backers' auditions much like the one we're part of. That touch of autobiography makes it all the more credible. Playing Jed and Boyd are two of the area's best comic actors, Ben Dibble and Tony Braithwaite. They take the many roles they are given in the mythical musical and make each a tour de force.
We start in darkness, just as the real Big Bang happens. It stops in the Garden of Eden, on Nefertiti's barge, in Caesar's bed chamber, at the birth of Christianity, in Rome where Christians were fed to the lions (told from the lion's point of view), in the New World, in the ante-bellum South and at Woodstock ending in a dash through the last half of the 20th century.
The show is filled with puns and double-entendres as well as pointed social comments. In Richard Parison's sharply focused Act II production, Dibble and Briathwaite cannibalize much of the Lipbalm's apartment and use the materials as costumes, wigs and other props to depict their dash through the last four billion years.
In Braithwaite and Dibble, Parison has performers who can do almost anything. They are fine actors, nuanced comedians, accurate mimics, good singers and very appealing companions on our journey through time.
Feuer's melodies are clever and often better than that. Graham's lyrics are sharp and seemingly with an effortlessness that belies their sophistication and wit.
Act II's physical production is immeasurably enhanced by Bradley Helm's set, Colleen mcMillan's preposterously witty costumes and shelly Hicklin's lighting. Grounding the almost entirely through-sung piece is key-boardist Jim Ryan.
Unlike many plays and musicals that go on far too long, The Big Bang, at 80 minutes, leaves you wanting more. It left me exhilarated and in awe of and grateful for the talent that created the show, both off stage and on.
David Anthony Fox
If you missed Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane playing a pair of manic producers-or even if you saw them-hurry now to Act II Playhouse to see Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble. They are playing two different producers, but similarly create a partnership soon to be legendary.
How lucky we are to have these two showmen, so different yet so complementary! Dibble is wide-eyed (wild-eyed?), desperate to please, and sings like an angel. Braithwaite is an aging altar boy with a hint of naughtiness. (When will someone cast this heavenly sinner in a Durang play?)
Even better, though these two young men have worked together only a few times before, they make a team of astonishing virtuosity.
The Big Bang is pretty good, too, and not what I expected. Summaries made me think smugly that it was simply a Producers rip-off. In fact, it's not. Though the shows share a similar premise-two producers pitching a sure-to-fail musical-Bang has a different take. These guys, Jed and Boyd, sincerely believe in the show they are promoting (a musical of world history from the dawn of time to the present, budgeted at 83.5 million bucks and sure to cost more). Bang takes place in a single evening, where Jed and Boyd are desperately presenting an audition to potential backers. Tonight, The Big Bang-- conceived in umpteen acts-will be performed by two guys and a piano … in 90 minutes. Mostly, Bang is parody musical numbers, some of them cannily summing up the worst of modern musicals. Much of the humor is pure Borscht Belt, and by the end of the evening, no ethnic group goes unslighted.
Most of all, it's a chance for Braithwaite and Dibble to milk every drop of comic potential. The accents fly like an explosion at Berlitz; the quick changes (costumes are improvised from household items) are miraculous. And when the two fellows sing, the house comes down.
Not all the bits are first-rate. The best sequences- Nefertiti, where Braithwaite channels an imperious Diana Ross (!), or Pocahontas and Minnehaha dissing the dating scene-are priceless. But even when the material flags, Braithwaite and Dibble, our theatrical alchemists, turn it into gold.
Kudos also to the other characters in the show: on-stage musical director Jim Ryan, who summons an orchestra from his electric piano, and set designer Bradley Helm, who manages on a shoestring to evoke Park Avenue, and have it come apart at the seams in the most hilarious way. (I'm not saying any more-you'll have to see for yourselves.) The piece is directed with manic energy by Richard Parison Jr.