]By Wendy Rosenfield
FOR THE INQUIRER
This isn’t easy to write, but it must be written: Philadelphia’s comedy sweethearts, Jennifer Childs and Tony Braithwaite, with their newest cabaret for 1812 Productions, Let’s Pretend We’re Famous, may have jumped the shark once and for all.
If you have a firsthand recollection of that last reference, you’ll get every other reference in the show, and will still wonder if Childs or Braithwaite has turned on a television in the last 30 years.
If you don’t get it, may I recommend a YouTube search of “Fonzie” and Happy Days, and also that you attend any other cabaret or comedy venture this city has to offer — Martha Graham Cracker, Rock and Awe, to name just a couple — because otherwise you’re in for a fairly expensive nap.
I also mention YouTube, because in a production whose theme is the elusive, fleeting, fickle nature of fame, Childs and Braithwaite’s “Where are they now?” number starts at Pam Dawber and ends at Norman Fell. (OK, at Rubik’s Cube.) What, no love for the “Numa Numa” guy?
Sure, in one of their few nods to the present day, the pair bemoans the cultural philistinism that brought America from the Barrymores to the Kardashians, but the nature of fame has changed. And It seems remiss to ignore, say, the entire Internet and its pop cultural influence if you’re only clinging to the side of the Love Boat, anyway.
What really smarts is that Let’s Pretend We’re Famous has a precursor, Let’s Pretend We’re Married, that was genuinely charming. And 1812’s annual Weekend Update-style satirical news roundup, This Is the Week That Is, generally hits a topical bull’s eye. Perhaps marriage is a subject better suited to Childs and Braithwaite’s old-school appeal. Maybe they needed a bigger writing team. They certainly needed someone to say, “Hey, I don’t know if singing ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ from the point of view of Barbara Hershey’s character in Beaches is gonna get a laugh in 2012.”
The duo finds the sweet spot in gems such as Childs’ wistful rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “The Glamorous Life” and Braithwaite’s frenzied interpretation of Noel Coward’s “Mrs. Worthington.” But their original work here, such as a bit that subjects an unwitting audience member to fame’s roller coaster — complete with Braithwaite’s Jay Leno impression and Childs’ (actually, Gilda Radner’s) “Baba Wawa” — stretches on for a remarkably unsurprising and uninspired 15 minutes.
Maybe it’s time to stop pretending and start freshening up this act for real.
Presented by 1812 Productions at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St., through March 25. Tickets: $20-$36. Information: 215-592-9560 or www.1812Productions.org<NO1>cq<NO>.