From the moment that Jackie Hoffman enters the plush dining room at 54 Below wearing on her head what appears to be a moldy Bloomin' Onion from Outback Steakhouse and singing the opening strains of The Lion King, you know you're in for a special night of cabaret. Hoffman's acerbic tongue knows no sacred cow in her songs and stand-up as she goes after Patti LuPone, Tom Hanks, and Stephen Sondheim. It's a refreshingly naughty change of pace in our overly PR'd world.
Hoffman reminds her audience that she was actually the first performer to grace the stage at 54 Below when it opened last year, rather than the much-lauded LuPone. Like this year, those shows were also on Sunday nights at 9:30pm. "I'm surprised even I showed up," the Xanadu and Hairspray actress quipped to a 70-percent-full room. But really, there shouldn't be an empty seat in the house when Hoffman performs — she's a master.
"You want a theme? There's no work and I need the money…there's your theme," Hoffman spits back at the audience. Much of Hoffman's humor is self-deprecating. "The Weisslers won't have me," she admits while lamenting how she's one of the few Broadway performers to have never appeared in Chicago on Broadway. "It's never been about me at the Roundabout," she exclaims, both mocking herself and the too-accommodating tagline of the not-for-profit Broadway producer upstairs at Studio 54.
Indeed, Hoffman's bitterest remarks are reserved for the theater establishment, which may prove confounding for casual observers of Broadway, but will undoubtedly elicit uncontrollable guffaws from all but the most humorless theater insiders. "I couldn't even get an audition for this," she states incredulously during the musical interlude of a brilliant rendition of "Little Girls" from Annie.
In a city that has become increasingly polished, corporatized, and media savvy, Hoffman is a deranged voice from New York's messy, uncouth (and far sexier) past, screaming out for attention in a distinctly nasal and abrasive fashion. "That will be fun to sing for an audience full of a**holes in pink sweaters eight times a week," she says right after performing "That Dirty Old Man" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Hoffman's next gig is Forum at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre.
She's backed up by music director and accompanist Will Van Dyke, who bobs his head soulfully as he sings New York Times reviews of Hoffman's earlier shows. Hoffman insists the Grey Lady has never forgiven her for her appearance as "Grandma" in The Addams Family. Van Dyke pretends to cruise Grindr during Hoffman's stand-up, leading to Hoffman's "iPhone song," an homage to our digital lives that culminates in the refrain "iHate myself, iHate myself, iHate myself."
Obviously, Hoffman's humor isn't for everyone. You might want to leave your pearls at home if you're prone to clutching. Personally, I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday night. She's a riot.
Jackie Hoffman: Old Woman, New Material continues performances at 54 Below on July 14 at 9:30pm, July 21 at 9:30pm, and July 28 at 9:30pm. For tickets and more information, please click here.