The veteran funnymen turned in a set for the ages with a throwback format that played to their strengths
Let’s cut to the chase: Saturday night’s performance by Steve Martin and Martin Short at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa was as wire-to-wire-entertaining as any I have experienced in 45 years of critic-hood.
From the video-screen review of both men’s work that served as a reminder of just how epic each of their decades-long careers has been, to the specialty-number encore that sent home an ecstatic Event Center crowd, the Borgata stop on the pair’s Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t tour was an absolute marvel.
While the individual segments were the evening’s meat, its bones were every bit as crucial to the program’s success. That’s because the evening was a throwback to a long-gone time in show business history when the world of entertainment was populated my individuals whose multiple skill sets—including singing, dancing and clowning around at extremely high levels—helped define show biz in the middle of the 20th century. Two immortals who come to mind are Danny Kaye and Sammy Davis Jr. Both men had acts that incorporated comedy, music and dance, often in the same sequence.
This variety format proved perfect for the duo, who were aided and abetted by a cast of top-shelf musicians—keyboardist Jeff Babko, who is part of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! band, and Martin’s longtime musical collaborators, collectively known as the masterful bluegrass sextet, Steep Canyon Rangers. It ably showcased their almost supernatural command of various comedy disciplines including one-liners, monologues, celebrity impersonations, improv (during a bit with three older men from the audience), visual and even slapstick humor. It likewise allowed “Steve Martin Short” to show off their superb vocal abilities on a series of comedic musical numbers and, in the case of banjo virtuoso Martin, to dazzle as an instrumentalist.
And all of this was wrapped in a casual, almost nonchalant manner on the part of Short and Martin that enhanced the old-timey vibe.
As for the individual segments that comprised the breezily paced show, where does one even start? Each bit was at least as funny and/or satisfying as the one that preceded it, and I honestly can’t think of one segment that was anything close to a bomb (although the late-in-the-show salute to one-liners by comics such as Bob Newhart, Phyllis Diller and Chris Rock was probably the least-necessary of all). If pressed, I’d single out:
*The Jiminy Glick routine in which Short’s celebrity-dissing character is portrayed by him as Martin’s ventriloquist’s dummy (“How does [Bernie Sanders] have time to run for president and heckle The Muppets?”).
*Martin’s banjo-playing portion of the show highlighted by “California,” A peppy two-stepper that is both a sideways love song and a sly commentary on the millennial life in 2019 America. It was accompanied by an extremely cool video.
*Short’s utterly surreal mid-show appearance as a human bagpipe (really!).
There were two other factors that made this so indelible an experience. The first was the exquisitely honed timing and chemistry the two shared.
The other was the gentle (and genuinely funny) insults the two swapped throughout the proceedings. They were proffered in the easy, guy-talk manner of longtime friends, and served not only to tickle the collective funny bone, but also to illustrate the obviously genuine affection the two men share (their give-and-take was reminiscent of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby—two other impressively versatile entertainers whose collective shtick included hilarious verbal takedowns of each other).
I’m not sure the word “magical” is appropriate for a comedy act, but it’s as good a word as there is to describe this most memorable presentation.
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