By Martin F. Kohn
Picture this – picture, being the operative word:
You’ve assembled in an elegant Park Avenue living room for a backers’ audition where two men are pitching their new show to potential investors. Titled “The Big Bang,” the show promises to be “the most expensive musical in history.”
At a cost of $83.5 million, with a cast of 318, the show offers nothing less than the entire history of civilization packed into “12 hours of pure entertainment.” They’re going to act out a bit of it just to give you a taste.
That’s the setup of “The Big Bang,” the musical by Jed Feuer and Boyd Graham (not the TV show with a similar name), that has taken up residence at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre. It’s very funny, but this is the kind of humor you have to see to appreciate.
It’s not that the lines aren’t funny or the songs are bad; it’s just that they aren’t as impressive as the creatively employed props, costumes and set pieces – occasionally they become one and the same.
Take the red, tapered shade that, removed from a lamp, is turned upside down and worn as the headpiece of an ancient Egyptian. Hat’s entertainment!
And hats off to Monika Essen (set and large props design), costume designer Mary Copenhagen and properties designer Diane Ulseth.
Imaginative design alone doesn’t make a show. Fortunately, this one has director Mary Bremer and a pair of actors, Greg Trzaskoma and Brian Thibault, who approach their assignment with unashamed vitality, as if making a fool of yourself were the Eleventh Commandment and they really, really want to make it to Heaven.
From Adam and Eve to the 20th Century, Trzaskoma and Thibault, sing, dance, dress, undress and tell the story of humankind in a variety of manners and accents. Unless you happen to be Swedish, Filipino or Inuit, your ethnicity is likely to be lampooned – not in a nasty way, but in more of a Mel Brooks style.
For whatever it means, the show’s highlights seem to occur when the guys are in drag. Thibault is a scream as a southern belle and Trzaskoma similarly hilarious as her faithful slave in a sketch that you might be called very far gone with the wind. The men are equally hysterical as a couple of Native American women lamenting the scarcity of good men in colonial days and as a Chinese woman and a Japanese woman trading insults in the 19th Century.
Musical director Stacy Cleavland is onstage at the piano the whole time. How she manages to keep a straight face is a minor miracle; she’s the only one in the house who does.
‘The Big Bang’
The Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Aaron DeRoy Theatre, 6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday through Jan. 3. $28-$36. 248-788-2900. http://www.jettheatre.org