Home > Broadway Buzz > Show Reviews > Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me November 14 , 2006
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Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me
by Rob Kendt

Photo by Paul Kolnik
Martin Short & Capathia Jenkins
in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me
Some of Martin Short's material may be up-to-the-minute—in his new TV-variety orgy of a Broadway show, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, there are obligatory Mel Gibson barbs and a reference to Fidel Castro's failing health. But don't be fooled: Short, an unabashed throwback who comes off a bit like the unholy love child of Danny Kaye and Jerry Lewis, is most in his element when he's floating far, far away from today's headlines, in a dubious showbiz ether where names like George Slaughter and Sophie Tucker, Charles Nelson Reilly and Josephine Baker, are touchstones.

It's in this fertile netherworld of tarnished or superannuated celebrity, somewhere between The Match Game and Shubert Alley, that Short flourishes, since he doesn't traffic in impressions of real stars but instead imagines his own demented pantheon. There's Jiminy Glick, the mincing blob of an entertainment "journalist," who alternately schmoozes and sucker-punches his interviewees, and who in Fame Becomes Me drags a real-life stunt guest from the audience for a semi-spontaneous gabfest (a game Tracey Ullman at the matinee I saw). There's Irving Cohen, the ostensible Tin Pan Alley tunesmith who talks more like a jaded agent, summoned here to give the show a Borscht-Belt benediction.

Story continues below

But none of Short's creations is as synthetic and pliable as the character of Martin Short himself. Presented as a gentle parody of the soul-baring conventions of the solo show, Fame Becomes Me traces an almost entirely fictionalized Short bio, from childhood dress-up in the attic through a meteoric rise to stardom, a drug-induced crash, a comeback, death and beyond. About the only hard facts I could discern in this account (book by Short and Daniel Goldfarb) are that he is indeed from Canada and once played a plaid-shirted goofball named Ed.

Photo by Paul Kolnik
Martin Short slinks between
(L-R)Nicole Parker & Mary Birdsong
The rest is fair game, and at its best the show skates giddily from target to target: In one bravura series of sketches, young hoofer Short auditions for a flaming, stilt-enhanced Tommy Tune and a dissipated Bob Fosse (both assayed broadly by Brooks Ashmanskas), then appears in a blond 'fro for a "tribal love rock musical" that climaxes with full-frontal bodysuit nudity. If those references seem too moldy, there's also a Wizard of Oz send-up (anchored by Mary Birdsong, doing her best Judy Garland warble) and a rather pointless patter pastiche of "Getting Married Today" (sung by the perky Nicole Parker).

When it's not poking fun at musicals of stage and screen, Fame Becomes Me is pot-shotting celebs, in a quick-change gallery that includes Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Jodie Foster, Renee Zellweger (in Parker's brutally contorted impression), Britney Spears, Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Celine Dion… you get the picture. These become the rather thankless province of the hard-working supporting cast, providing filler while Short is offstage for costume changes. The impish Marc Shaiman, who wrote the evening's accomplished if disposable score, is also drafted into the stage antics (and, surprisingly, provides the show's only glimpse of actual nudity). And the under-used Capathia Jenkins sasses her way through an 11 o'clock number ostensibly lampooning the Broadway trick of having a "big black lady stop the show," though this joke would be funnier if it didn't so nakedly describe itself.

That, finally, is also true of Fame Becomes Me, which at its less inspired moments plays uncannily like one long awards-show sketch by Bruce Vilanch. Short's comedy is such a self-referential hall of mirrors that even the jokes meant to poke holes in the show's excesses become a symptom of showbiz excess themselves. In his opening monologue, Short briefly nods to the duke of self-involvement: "As Mandy Patinkin once told me, 'Always leave them wanting less.'" Mission accomplished.

Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me
Book by Martin Short and Daniel Goldfarb
Music and arrangements by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Directed by Scott Wittman
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 8/17/2006 4:36:00 PM


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