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Fretts on Film on Broadway: “The Performers”

November 15, 2012

I don’t go to a lot of theater, mostly because I can’t afford it, but after I recently interviewed him for The New York Daily News, Henry Winkler invited me to a press preview (read: free tickets!) of his new Broadway comedy, The Performers, which opened last night. And I’ve gotta say, it was well-worth the price of admission.

Which is to say: I enjoyed it, but I probably wouldn’t have liked it quite so much if I’d shelled out $117 for my orchestra seat. It’s essentially an old-school sitcom with smuttier jokes—think TV Land After Dark—about a couple of couples who come together (no pun intended…okay, pun intended) at the Adult Film Awards in Las Vegas.

One of the pairs…and I’m not talking about breasts…okay, yes I am…is dim-bulb porn stars Peeps (Ari Graynor) and Mandrew (Cheyenne Jackson). The other is Mandrew’s high-school pal, Lee, a New York Post reporter (Daniel Breaker), and his straight-laced schoolteacher fiancee Sara (Alicia Silverstone). Two more adult-film stars are thrown into the mix: Sundown (Jenni Barber), an artificially buxom naif, and the legendarily well-endowed Chuck Wood (Winkler).

For the most part, the cast is game, but playwright David West Read’s gags are just gamey. There are lots of sniggering jokes about porn titles (e.g. Spontane-ass) and some fairly explicit dialogue about everything from money shots to Where’s Waldo? (don’t ask). But in the end—and I’m not going to touch that line with a ten-foot…oh, never mind—the show is more hoary than whore-y.

That’s too bad, because with the exception of the truly Clueless Silverstone (who stumbles her way through one of the least convincing drunk scenes ever), the ensemble’s pretty solid. At the performance I saw, Graynor seemed to be straining her voice in an attempt to imitate Jennifer Tilly, but she still scored big laughs, as did Barber (the duo should seriously consider a female reboot of Dumb and Dumber). The chiseled Jackson has clearly honed his comedic chops during his stint on 30 Rock, and Breaker’s got a nice, dry delivery, though his mannerisms seem a bit fey for an allegedly straight guy. And maybe I’m biased because I got to hang out with the Fonz backstage, but Winkler is damn near perfect. Channeling Burt Reynolds (whom he directed in Cop and a Half) in Boogie Nights, he nails every line and gesture with the timing of an old pro. This man, my friends, is a consummate Performer.

Will you be spending your hard-earned money on The Performers?

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