Sunday, 29 November 2015

Theatre review: 3 Guys Naked From The Waist Down

Not literally though :(

The Finborough's Sunday to Tuesday slot sometimes plays host to forgotten small-scale musicals, and here's one so small-scale the five-strong band outnumber the cast: Jerry Colker (book and lyrics) and Michael Rupert's (music) 3 Guys Naked From The Waist Down premiered off-Broadway in 1985, and while it retains some of its charm there's also much to explain why this is the first UK production since the eighties. Ted (Simon Haines) emcees at a small New York comedy club and feels trapped there, until he spots "Angry Guy" comic Phil (Benedict Hastings.) Ted knows a talent-spotter from The Tonight Show and thinks if they team up they stand a chance of impressing him. But he insists they're also joined by his best friend Kenny (Guy Woolf,) who has an irritating surreal routine, a fondness for interrupting other people's acts, and obvious real mental health issues behind the scenes. Despite problems like Kenny's tendency to walk off mid-show and, frankly, the quality of their act, they get their live TV slot and become an overnight success.

Josh Sood's rather good band is a bit wasted on one of those musicals where the songs feel like an afterthought, Rupert's songs are simple, infrequent and heavy on the reprises, but the cast do their best with them.

In fact Joshua Stamp-Simon's production can't be faulted for enthusiasm, and in those instances where Colker's material has stood the test of time the cast come up with a lot of funny moments and plenty of charm, especially from Hastings, despite his character's superficially abrasive nature. The trouble is everything from the 1980s seemed to date almost instantly, and that's a particular problem in the first act, which largely concerns itself with introducing us to each of the three guys via their standup routines. Ted's everyman act and Phil's angry guy schtick show their age (trying to elicit sympathy for the Baby Boomers is... something of a ship that's sailed now) yet each has its moments; but Kenny's frantic Andy Kaufman-cum-Robin Williams act is nigh on unwatchable. I was very aware the other two had promised to give him a taste of his own medicine and interrupt his act, and it couldn't come quickly enough.

Although the second act's story of the trio becoming successful (in a cheesy sitcom where they play undercover cops in drag) and finding out that fame isn't what they expected isn't new, at least it means the actual standup routines are kept to a minimum. It makes for a much less patchy second half, but Stamp-Simon might have been best off really ramping up the eighties nostalgia to make a virtue of it. Instead, although there's still plenty to enjoy in the cast and musicians' performances, the piece itself makes it clear that standup is an odd conceit to hang a musical around if you want it to have any kind of longevity - even if Colker avoids overly topical material, performance styles can really date it as well.

3 Guys Naked From The Waist Down by Jerry Colker and Michael Rupert is booking in repertory until the 15th of December at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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