Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: The Big Bang

Tony Braithwaite and Ben Dibble sing world history in a zany 70 minutes in "The Big Bang" at the Kimmel Center. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: The Big Bang

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Ben Dibble as Pocahontas and Tony Braithwaite as Minnehaha, taking us through world history in 70 minutes in "The Big Bang" at the Kimmel Center.

By Howard Shapiro

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. 

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at Hear his reviews at the Classical Network,

The Big Bang: At Kimmel Center’s Innovations Studio, Broad and Spruce Streets, through Oct. 30. Tickets: $30-$39. Information: 215-893-1999 or  

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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