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Bill Boggs in Talk Show Confidential
(Photo © Laura Penney)
Actor, writer, newscaster, producer, singer... Bill Boggs has just about done it all. But he's undoubtedly best known as a television talk show host on programs ranging from Midday Live to Saturday Morning Live to Corner Table on the Food Network. He has conducted somewhere between eight and nine thousand interviews with celebrities of every stripe and has plenty of stories to tell about them. The venue in which he's chosen to do so is Talk Show Confidential, a piece of live entertainment that has popped up here and there around town before reaching the Triad Theatre, where it has just settled down for an open-ended run.

If you go to this show expecting no more than clips of some of Boggs's interviews, a few interesting anecdotes, and a dash of backstage gossip, you'll be pleased. Boggs has a warm, comfortable rapport with the audience that helps him sail through most of the show's surface-level content. After three decades on television, he has become a master of the quick hit: get them in, get the juice, and get them out. If you anticipate very much more -- insights into the human condition, for example, or any real sense of who Boggs is as a person -- you're likely to be disappointed with much of the evening.

After a delightfully cheesy theme song performed by onstage musicians Anna Dagmar Johnson (piano) and Mike Lee (bass), Boggs jumps right in with both feet, promising to give us the truth about the "egomaniacs" he's been "coddling for 30 years." He certainly delivers on this vow, telling of his experiences with enthusiasm and good humor. While he recounts a fair number of stories live, including tales of his encounters with Frank Zappa, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, John Belushi, Miles Davis, and Morton Downey, Jr., he relies on clips shown on the onstage television to do quite a bit of the presentation for him. During the course of the show, there are clips featuring such luminaries as Matt Lauer, Sarah Ferguson (discovering the miracle of Twinkies), Martha Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Brian Dennehy. There's no lack of star power in this show, at least not in terms of audio/visual images.

The clips show Boggs at his best and most natural; he's an ideal television performer who, despite his easy, warm rapport with the audience, often seems a bit stiff onstage. During the infrequent moments when he re-enacts a couple of his more famous (or infamous) journalistic encounters -- including interviews with a couple who speak no English, a woman with breast implants, and a urologist whom Boggs mistook for a military official during the Persian Gulf War (portrayed by bassist Lee) -- Boggs exhibits the same energy and vitality that makes him such a strong presence onscreen. These moments are almost always more interesting than when he just stands and talks.

Towards the end of the show, Boggs drops his defenses and describes in moving, exquisite detail the profound influence that Frank Sinatra had on his life. This leads into the meatiest part of the evening: Boggs's ruminations on what he's really learned from the many celebrities he's interviewed. Hopeful and inspiring, this sequence and the loving tribute to Boggs's father that closes the show provide the heart that's lacking elsewhere in the evening. In the end, it's what elevates Talk Show Confidential above the level of "clever but unmemorable" and leaves one with the sense that the 70 or so minutes with Boggs has been time well spent.

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