Baby Richard’s Got Back, or It’s Not Easy Being Bob Greene, Second City E.T.C.
This benchmark revue may be the Promised One we critics fantasized about as we faulted the rest. Not a sketch flops or fades, and half of them scale comic Himalayas.
The standard is set by the songs; music director Jeff Richmond makes them as solid and multilayered as the sketches. In the opening rouser a dour minister’s family, who thrive on other people’s sorrows, are ecstatically transformed by an Afro UFO, a soul starship that teaches them the glories of funk. Equally sharp numbers include a skewering of John Hildreth’s 30th birthday (with glorious glumness, he contrasts his unfinished life with those of early-blooming geniuses), a Benny Hill-style country ballad detailing current “faux pas,” and a clever tribute to the ability of Cliff Notes to reduce classics to cliches. Though a few sketches have bumpy endings, they’re all perfectly tailored to this ripe ensemble. Dee Ryan and Jim Zulevic superbly clone a helplessly bratty sister and the reluctant brother who looks after her despite his every instinct. As two nutso patients vying for territory in a waiting room, Hildreth and Aaron Rhodes reinvent slapstick. Joined in a demented dance for Bosnia (the one political moment), Ryan and Miriam Tolan rampage through an inventory of literally empty gestures (but a skit about UN peacekeepers enjoying fart imitations underachieves). Best is a beautifully built sketch that focuses on rivalry in a high school band; it will open up a flood of buried memories.
Among the well struck targets are wet T-shirt contests, Laurie Anderson, and, in the surprisingly serious ending, the “Baby Richard” case; the scene offers an elaborate consolation for the adoptive mother. You hope she sees it.