It would be madness for anyone to miss Angela LaGreca's Monday Nite Madness, because the series offers the opportunity to see a great many talented performers for a very small amount of money. LaGreca's long-running variety show consistently offers a strong lineup of established stars and hot up-and-comers at Don't Tell Mama for the modest price of ten bucks and a two-drink minimum. The accent is on standup comedy, but LaGreca always makes sure there's at least one singer on the bill. And, backed by her musical director Lenny Babbish, she's no slouch in the singing department, herself.
When we dropped in the other evening, LaGreca was in good comic form for her opening monologue. At one point, she recounted her recent trip to Italy; when asked what village her ancestors came from, she replied, "Scarsdale." All too soon, though, she was offering the tried-and-true musical comedy number "Diva Handbook." If we have one complaint about LaGreca's shows, it's that she trots out the same set pieces every time we see her. Mind you, each piece is spit-polished to perfection and very funny, but she ought to work up some new stuff. For instance, about two years ago, she started singing Rick Crom's brilliant comedy tune "Denial"--and that was the freshest material she performed on the night we saw her show.
Oh, but what a show she put together! We were particularly taken with Tom Cotter, a gifted comic who specializes in sad sack material. He recalled that his parents tried to surprise him on his birthday with a car...but they missed. Cotter consistently demonstrated his skill for using the quirks of language to get laughs. In fact, he closed his set with reinterpretations of slang expressions like "on the lam," which he takes to mean "needs a girlfriend."
Singer/actress Colette Hawley (Avenue X) took the opportunity of LaGreca's show to reinvent herself as a raconteur. Poised yet coiled with a sort of kinetic energy, she told a hilarious story about her high school reunion and the old boyfriend with whom she rekindled a flame; wisely, she made herself the butt of her jokes as her tale unfolded. Hip and attractive, Hawley demonstrated that she's truly a multi-faceted performer. Singer Greg Rodeheffer shone in a bit in which he recalled playing Dorothy in a kindergarten production of The Wizard of Oz. With his musical director David Maiocco playing the wicked witch to perfection, the number was priceless. Rodeheffer then segued into an impassioned rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" that held the room in thrall.
The cornerstone of the evening was the appearance of the nationally known comedian Joy Behar. A frequent guest of Monday Nite Madness, Behar--who commands a high cover price when she performs in comedy clubs--anchored herself on a stool and shared what had to be at least half of her full act. The room was in stitches from start to finish. Despite her complaints of exhaustion after returning from the Montreal Comedy Festival, Behar knocked out comic riffs on everything from plastic surgery to Nazis. The secret to her style is that she tells jokes in an entirely conversational manner; every punch line sneaks up on you because she seems as if she's just "talking."
LaGreca promised that there would be another run of Monday Nite Madness shows in the early fall. Check the Don't Tell Mama schedule for her return. Take it from us, this is a much better show than Monday Night Football.