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Is That Funny, or What?

Barbara & Scott quarrel over Silent Laughter but agree wholeheartedly on Maria Friedman at the Café Carlyle.

By New York City
Megan Byrne, Ken Jennings, andBilly van Zandt in Silent Laughter(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Megan Byrne, Ken Jennings, and
Billy van Zandt in Silent Laughter
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
We knew not long after the show began that we would not agree about Silent Laughter. When two people are watching a comedy and only one is laughing, it's clear that we're not having the same experience. So we talked about it:

BARBARA: I thought you loved silent comedy.

SCOTT: Of course I love silent comedy, but what they were doing was an oversimplified cliché version of silent comedy. You can see a Chaplin or Keaton film today and it's still totally fresh and funny; those movies haven't dated the way the Keystone Kops stuff has. Silent Laughter had none of the physical comedy cleverness that made the great silent films great. Except for a handful of modestly funny gags, I was essentially bored.

BARBARA: And I was charmed. I agree it wasn't laugh-out-loud funny...

SCOTT: Silent Laughter. Aptly titled.

BARBARA: Hey, there was a lot of clever stuff. The dialogue cards were great. Very witty, actually.

SCOTT: I agree, but that doesn't excuse the lack of visual, physical comedy. If people want silent laughter, they should check out Bill Irwin at the Signature Theater; that company is devoting its whole season to Irwin.

BARBARA: Silent Laughter is the lowbrow version -- and your brow is usually plenty low. I heard you laughing.

SCOTT: No, you heard me eating. I liked the 25-cent popcorn they were selling before the show and during intermission. I appreciate the fact that they let you bring it to your seat. For me, that was the highlight. But I would have to say that the second act is better than the first.

BARBARA: You caught the references to Modern Times, Shoulder Arms, and some of the other classic silent comedies?

SCOTT: Yes, but its more hommage than recreation. They didn't do anything with those scenes to make them memorable.

BARBARA: Come on, Ken Jennings combing his chest hair was funny. And that gag with the butler, Jim Fitzpatrick -- he has a great silent comedy face -- standing on his head so that the card title would turn over, that was a clever piece of work. And the villain, John Gregorio, was swell, too.

SCOTT: It wasn't the acting that bothered me; it was the writing by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, who also played the two leads, that was pedestrian. Van Zandt's direction was no better.

BARBARA: We'll agree to disagree, but I particularly liked Van Zandt as the comic hero.

SCOTT: Look, do you want to go eat?

BARBARA: You just had all that popcorn!

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Maria Friedman(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Maria Friedman
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Maria Friedman: From West End to East Side

We caught West End star Maria Friedman's American cabaret debut at the Café Carlyle last year, and we were less than impressed. The British musical theater star has just returned to the Carlyle with a new show, By Special Arrangement, and this time we were more impressed but still not wowed.

Friedman is a very fine actress; it's her acting skills that give her show emotional dimension. There's nothing wrong with her voice but it's just not that interesting, nor is it particularly rangy. When she performs songs that require a belt, it turns out that she doesn't have one. As for personality, she's sweet but a bit bland. Last year, Friedman put together a program of show tunes that invited comparisons to her American counterparts. She didn't measure up. Smartly, she does less of that this time around -- although her rendition of "If" (Styne, Comden, and Green) is pale compared to Kristin Chenoweth's showstopping performance of the number.

There are several moments of inspiration, beauty, and artfulness in the show. For instance, Friedman's combination of "Springtime" from the Vilna Ghetto with "Somewhere" from West Side Story is deeply moving and utterly inspired. She offers a touching rendition of "Children and Art" from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, and she brings the right attitude to Sheldon Harnick's playfully dark "The Merry Minuet." Clearly, this multiple Olivier winner has much to offer as she continues to make the transition from theater star to cabaret star.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegelentertainment@msn.com.]


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