A Sherman Tank
With live theater owners bemoaning the dwindling numbers of baby boomers in attendance, primary evidence of the cause of the shrinkage can be found in the painfully dated Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah at American Heartland Theatre. Though the talented cast works overtime to breathe life into this alternately plodding and cutesy critter, the bird just won’t fly.
The triumvirate that is Cathy Barnett, Karen Errington, and Terry O’Reagan share the stage with the lesser known Alan Ball and Frankie Krainz, but five into nothing doesn’t add up to much. Called “the Alan Sherman musical,” it examines the life of one Barry Bockman, the fictitious mensch whose Judaism the show spotlights as his most prominent feature. From Barry’s birth through nursery school, summer camp, marriage, et al., the show fishes from Sherman’s minuscule repertoire such ditties as “Won’t You Come Home, Disraeli” sung to the tune of “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey,” a song that probably was last heard on The Ed Sullivan Show. The wit quotient plummets from there.
If the hippest lines in a show reference the old Dr. Kildare show and Jack Webb’s Sergeant Friday, the target audience is composed of people already dipping into their IRAs. The result is like a garage sale with ebullient hosts. O’Reagan manages to reinvent the cheesy wedding singer stereotype better than even Adam Sandler, and Barnett’s mother-of-the-groom is a caricature with character. But listening to the forced yet muffled laughter accompanying the title song (arguably Sherman’s most famous bit) must give the actors pause.
A show that was fun in the early 1990s at the intimate Quality Hill Playhouse hasn’t aged well; all its lines and creases show and are mysteriously magnified in the much larger Heartland space.