By D. A. Blackburn
Last season, critic Donald V. Calamia took a stroll downriver to Wyandotte – a charming community, not generally listed among Southeast Michigan’s vibrant enclaves of theater – to review a production on the fringe of the label “professional theater.” His musings about TNT Productions’ “The Carol Burnett Show” were tepid, at best, but the show went on to become a success for the young company. As such, it’s little surprise that they’ve decided to revisit the set of one of TV’s best-loved sketch comedies with “The Carol Burnett Show, Season 2.” The results, for this critic (who did not see the first production), appear to be much the same.
The premise of TNT’s production is simple: local actors take on iconic personas, and recreate well-known skits from Burnett’s 11-year run on the small screen. With so much exceptional humor to emulate, one might suspect this would be an easy task, but “Season 2” proves – in a very mixed-bag fashion – that it’s hard to duplicate the work of true masters.
From the outset – and much like last year’s show – TNT’s production is plagued by a host of technical issues. House lights at Biddle Hall seem to come on and turn off with little rhyme or reason, and stage lighting is simply severe. Worse, still, are myriad mix and volume troubles with the show’s sound design – all of which should have been ferreted out in rehearsal (or at least after the opening night performance).
The show’s first act, in which Burnett (Chris Fusco) “bumps up the lights” with a tedious question and answer session, includes three “new” skits, which are largely drab, uninspired reminiscences of the real thing. The last of these three, “The Coffee Commercial” eventually peaks with some mildly funny physical comedy, but not before taking a gigantic misstep. Early on, the skit makes reference to “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Where’s the beef?” Both entered the greater consciousness in 1984; the curtain came down on the real “Carol Burnett Show” some six years earlier.
The second act of “Season 2” is more evenly funny, and the night’s best performances come from two skits here. John Winslow, as Tim Conway, makes a superbly funny transformation from man to feline in “The Howl and The Pussycat.” And “The Welfare Work” earns laughs with equal zeal, as Fusco, Winslow, Tommy Wojtala and Barb Day all turn in solid comedic work.
Between official sketches, performers work the crowd with a variety of bits – fare of an equally uneven quality. Tim Wojtala, as Harvey Korman, dons a hilarious accent to riff with Fusco’s Carol Burnett in the best of these. But when special guests Richard and Karen Carpenter (Tommy Wojtala and Emily Flesch) appear to lip-synch their way through “Mr. Postman,” the work stalls. And Mary Hopkins’ (April Denny) musical interlude is even less satisfying, a victim of both the show’s technical issues and a sloppy vocal performance.
Like TNT’s original “Burnett Show,” “Season 2” suffers from what Calamia called a “glacial” pacing. Pauses between sketches seem dreadfully long, even with performers playing to the crowd while sets and costumes are changed.
Ultimately, there’s good material in “Season 2,” but it doesn’t come close to the real thing. And coming from a man who loves live theater, it’s a sharp criticism that he’d rather rent DVDs of the original, than venture back downriver to Biddle Hall.
‘The Carol Burnett Show, Season 2’
TNT Productions. Performs Saturday April 10, 24, May 8 & 22 (dinner served at 7 p.m.), and Sunday April 11, 25, May 2, 16 & 23 (lunch served at 1 p.m.) at The Biddle Hall, 3239 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte. Reservations required. $35 per person or $65 per couple for dinner shows; $30 for lunch matinees. Price includes dinner/lunch, dessert, tax, tip and show. For reservations: 734-626-8395.