Believe it: Hoffman is back and at the peak of her talent. Since opening on the Great White Way in the smash hit Hairspray in August 2002, she has skillfully made the transition from Off-Broadway comic curiosity to Broadway comic curiosity. Now, she has returned to Joe's Pub at the Public Theater to tell her fans what she's learned along the way -- and, judging by Monday's packed house, she has plenty of fans. Even if you barely know Hoffman's work and weren't that impressed with what you saw her do in Hairspray, you'll find that The Kvetching Continues provides many valuable examples of the intricate art of broad comedy.
From her opening number ("Three Minutes on Broadway," a reference to the amount of time she spends onstage in each performance of Hairspray) to her last (the show's title song), Hoffman proves herself to be an expert comedian and a darn fine singer to boot. Prior to seeing her here, I never would have described her work in Hairspray as restrained; but when she really lets go, she's nothing short of a force of nature.
Everything Broadway is a source of comic inspiration for her: the toll of performing one show eight times a week ("I'm not used to shows that run!"); her childhood obsession with Broadway cast recordings ("By the time I was a 9-year-old girl, I was a gay man!"); working with child actors (she quips that she's "a child hater in a family musical"); benefit events featuring Eartha Kitt, Mary Tyler Moore, and Bernadette Peters (her impressions of all three are priceless); theater awards ceremonies; even her now well-publicized ad-libbing of a new line at every Hairspray performance. You name it, Hoffman takes it on -- and takes no prisoners. (How much of director Michael Schiralli's work involved just getting out of her way we may never know, but the show is very well put together.)
Dave Brunetti has provided the star with excellent musical direction and accompaniment, not to mention some fine composing; he was assisted by Lon Hoyt, but Hoffman is credited with writing the show and all of the songs' new lyrics herself. She tells us that Brunetti wrote the music for about half the show's songs; the other half are by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (the strains of "On Broadway" echo throughout the show), and Stephen Sondheim (Hoffman does up her hair and presents the Follies classic "I'm Still Here" as if it were being sung by a child actor). Other songs include tributes to the Jewish holiday of Shavouos and gay child rearing. The only number Hoffman has trouble landing is a late-show entry called "Eurotrash," all about her recent Italian vacation.
That's the only time when her humor feels strained; otherwise, her sizzling timing and trenchant comic insights make the show almost a non-stop riot. Be forewarned, though: The Kevetching Continues has only three more performances scheduled on the next three Monday nights. After that, you'll have to be content to see Hoffman in Hairspray, at least for a while. But if you can get tickets to her show at Joe's Pub, you'll find her at her freshest, funniest, and most raucously enjoyable.