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Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!

Larry Cahn and Kevin Pariseau
in Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The Jews are alive with the sound of music--or, at least, with the sound of lyrics. Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! is a concoction of Douglas Bernstein & Rob Krausz, who have strung together selected Allan Sherman parody numbers from the 1960s. In doing so, they've created a sweetly comic musical that follows the journey of a Jewish-American man from his birth through old age. The show was first staged here in New York at the Circle in the Square Theater on Bleecker Street in 1992, and its current revival at the Triad Theatre is a reason for celebration and reflection.

The celebration is for the talent of the late Mr. Sherman. Parodists often get the lion's share of their comedy from dicey, edgy satire. Like a paper cut, satire usually causes an immediate reaction, but it doesn't run deep. Sherman's lyrics, on the other hand, exhibit a keen understanding of human nature. His comedy captured both character and culture; as a consequence, it remains timeless. For instance, he wrote an enchanting, entirely original (except for the music, of course) love song called "One Hippopotami" that the show's two lovers, Barry and Sarah, sing to each other to seal their relationship. Even more impressive is Sherman's "The Ballad of Harry Lewis," a remarkable melding of comedy and poignancy.

Most of his songs are simply laugh-out-loud funny. The most famous is the show's title tune: "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!" is the comic lament of a child begging his parents to end his exile at Camp Grenada. When our young hero promises that, in exchange for being allowed to come home, "I will even let Aunt Bertha hug and kiss me," you feel that nothing has changed in the 40 years since the song was written. One number after another displays Sherman's gift for capturing both the specificity and the universality of modern American life as seen through the eyes of an ethnic group that is coming into its own. This musical may be about Jews, but it speaks to everyone.

Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! is cause for reflection because it's also part of a sudden boomlet in Broadway and Off-Broadway fare that looks back to what has always been described as the turbulent 1960s. Lately, that turbulence seems to have given away to a nostalgic innocence. The Broadway revival of Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns tells the surprisingly sad tale of a man who must give up his early '60s rebellion to rejoin society. Off-Broadway, there's a celebratory musical based on the life of Janis Joplin as well as Down South, a nutty comedy about sex and the feminist movement set in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Speaking of 1962, there's also Gerard Alessandrini's update of Irving Berlin's Kennedy-era musical Mr. President. And speaking of Alessandrini, where would he and his Forbidden Broadway be without the huge, earlier success of Allan Sherman's parodies? Certainly, there were parodists before and since Sherman; but, without the slightest doubt, he established the commercial viability of song parodies when "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!" became a number one hit and his albums went on to sell millions of copies. If anyone is the patron rabbi of Forbidden Broadway, it's Allan Sherman.

The current production of Hello Muddah has a strong cast whose members throw themselves into the material with the kind of exuberant innocence that is required. Only Jimmy Spadola, as the annoying Uncle Phil, manages to overplay to the point where he actually becomes annoying rather than funny. The rest of the cast hit all of the right notes as both actors and singers. Kevin Pariseau is our winning hero, Barry; he has a gangling charm and a winsome manner. It's a different, less inherently funny performance than Jason Graae's version of the character in 1992, but it works on its own terms. Leslie Lorusso is Barry's lifelong love, Sarah, and she's sweetly engaging. As Barry's father-in-law, Harvey, Larry Cahn is comically blustering, while Kristie Dale Sanders as his wife, Sheila, closely matches the musical comedy powerhouse performance that Mary Testa gave in the 1992 production.

Rob Krauz directs the show on the small Triad Theatre stage with a sure-handed sense of rhythm. He stages each scene sharply and has a gift for getting the actors on and off with speed and precision. William Barclay's set designs are simple and effective, as is Phillip Monat's lighting design. Michael Louis' costumes, you'll excuse the pun, fit the material; the ZBT (Jewish fraternity) sweatshirt worn by one of the actors is a case in point.

Hello Muddah is a great show to bring your parents to see for its nostalgic charms, but its appeal is far more wide-ranging than that. This is no Les Miserables; in fact, it might more accurately be retitled Le Bourgeoisie. But it's fun.

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