And now for something completely different. Eric Idle (with John Du Prez) has created another venture for the stage. The former Monty Pythoner who has authored Spamalot and An Evening Without Monty Python brings What About Dick? to the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles.
The official description of the show calls it an “Emotion Picture for Radio . . . set between 1910 and eight o’clock” Dick “tells the story of the . . . decline of the British Empire as seen through the eyes of a piano.” Assembled are a cast of comic greats that include Russell Brand, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Jim Piddock, Tracey Ullman, Sophie Winkleman and Eric Idle himself as the narrator. Performed as a radio play in front of a live audience and described as aural cinema, the show features live musicians and a sound effects artist.
The actors, most of whom have a tendency to improvise anyway, do more so having the script in front of them. They play off of the audience reactions and their own flubbed line readings. It was particularly pleasing to watch Eric Idle sitting off to the side enjoying the reaction his work was getting – both from his fellow actors and the audience.
The basic story is a bit hard to follow, but let me explain. No there is too much. When I say too much, I mean a lot. When I say a lot, I mean...oh, nevermind. Let's visit take a look at the official plot before you hear what I thought about Dick..
Dick “tells the story of young Dick (Russell Brand) who is studying philosophy and gynecology at Oxford; his two cousins: Emma, (Jane Leeves) an emotionally retarded English girl; her kleptomaniac sister Helena (Sophie Winkleman) and their dipsomaniac Aunt Maggie (Tracey Ullman) all live together in Kensington in a large, rambling, Edwardian novel. When the Reverend Whoopsie (Tim Curry) discovers a piano on a beach, a plot is set afoot that can be solved only by a private Dick, the incomprehensible Scottish sleuth Inspector McGuffin (Billy Connolly) who with the aid of Sergeant Ken Russell (Jim Piddock) finally reveals the identity of the Houndsditch Mutilator.”
Eddie Izzard rounds out the cast as Deepak Obi Ben Kingsley, the inventor of the vibrator.
--possible spoilers, but every show is different so they may not do this when you see them--
The cast also play other parts which adds to the confusion, particularly when Izzard’s two characters talk to each other. He pulls it off well, though, jumping back and forth between two microphones. The confusion continues with Connolly’s inspector who speaks in a thick, Scottish accent and a speech impediment. He is very reminiscent of John Cleese in similar roles – particularly Tim the Enchanter. It was fun watching him try to get through his verbose speeches and the rest of the cast try to keep their composure.
Another fun, improvised moment came with Izzard in the guise of an Italian. In addition to a pretty decent accent, he proceeds to insult Idle and Piddocks’ characters as delivery men, in Italian. Idle then translates the rather elaborate insult. Though, many Izzard fans were disappointed that he never once said the word “Ciao”, he did receive a rather distracting shout-out from an audience member after he had sat down and Brand had come to the mic. After flubbing his line, Brand pointed out that he got distracted by the audience member yelling for Izzard after he had already sat down. Brand, after all, had his “acting hat” on and was trying his best. Later after his character describes himself as an active transvestite, he turned to Izzard and gave a deep bow.
My wife was thrilled to see Tracey Ullman live on stage and we were both happy to see Tim Curry again, whom we hadn’t seen since Spamalot on Broadway. Jane Leeves was just as funnny here as she was in An Evening Without Monty Python.
Though the second act isn’t as funny as the first, this is an entertaining musical comedy with plenty of audience participation.
This show plays for two more performances at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. They are also recording the performances for later broadcast somewhere, so if you miss it live, be sure to look for it in the future. But if you can, try to catch it live. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and if you're a comedy lover, you'll also enjoy a night of Dick.
For ticket information, visit the shows official web site: www.whataboutdick.com.
POPped in your general direction