By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
The Big Bang: At Kimmel Center’s Innovations Studio, Broad and Spruce Streets, through Oct. 30. Tickets: $30-$39. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.kimmelcenter.org.