Thursday, September 17, 2009

"The Nightman Cometh": A Theater Review

"Do you think there will be someone dressed as Greenman?" asked my husband, not long after learning I'd be attending Wednesday night's performance of "The Nightman Cometh" at New York's Beacon Theatre.
It was a silly question. "Nightman" is based on an episode of the raucous FX sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Despite relatively low ratings and a distressing lack of Emmy attention, the show has an insane cult following. That's why the New York performance of "Nightman" -- which features the entire cast of the series recreating their roles from the episode -- sold out almost immediately. That's why, every now and then, at certain sporting contests and other televised events, you'll see grown men donning green bodystockings, emulating "Sunny" oddball Charlie (Charlie Day). I was sure that at least one or two of the "Sunny" faithful headed to Wednesday's performance of "Nightman" would be decked out in head-to-toe green.
Yet, as I sat in the theater, a mere 20 minutes before showtime, I saw no sign of my favorite emerald-hued miscreant. I was a little disappointed. I hadn't come to this show expecting the atmosphere surrounding most live theater. After all, this play wasn't a dense thinkpiece or a celebrity-studded musical. It was a rock opera based on a show about alcoholic degenerates. I expected a party.
Then, about 10 minutes before the curtain went up, I heard cheers and laughter erupt behind me. I turned around...and saw a man in a green bodystocking darting in and out of the aisles. Woo-hoo! Greenman!
Fittingly, the show started not long after Greenman's appearance. First, there was a band, then "Nightman" composer Cormac Bluestone came on stage and introduced a clip from the upcoming "Sunny" DVD, "A Very Sunny Christmas," (to be released Nov. 17) and a full-length episode from "Sunny's" fifth season titled "The Gang Reignites the Rivalry." This was all great (particularly the "Christmas" clip, which featured a bloody battle between Charlie and a department store Santa), but I was totally ready for the show to start.
Finally, it did. The performance is simply an expanded version of the TV episode, in which Charlie writes a musical called "The Nightman Cometh," seemingly for no reason, and casts Frank (Danny DeVito), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenny) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) in major roles. The rest defies description, as the gang takes on Charlie's bizarre masterwork with its usually mix of commitment, selfishness and bizarre fixation on sex.
The episode translates surprisingly well to the stage, with expanded versions of the songs that were only glimpsed during the television episode. All of the cast members have great stage presence, but McElhenny is particularly hilarious. His Mac plays The Nightman in the show within a show, embracing the part with his usual psychotic glee. And let me tell you -- if you thought Mac's bizarre, random karate moves as The Nightman were funny on the show, they take on a whole new dimension in live performance. The Nightman even gets his own song here, a delightful tune about evil, human nature and sodomy.
But the best part of "Nightman" had nothing to do with what was on the stage. It was the intense reaction from the audience, who knew the episode by heart. They laughed at all the funny stuff, booed when The Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) rejected Charlie's marriage proposal at the end, and went plain nuts when Dee and Dennis burst into a rendition of the now-famous "Dayman" song. I've always loved that song, but you'll never know just much it's caught on with fans until you've heard a theater full of people singing along with it in full falsetto. Awesome.
As I'd originally suspected, the "Nightman" performance was one big party. That it was a party accompanied by a funny, well-acted, fairly well-produced live show made it even more fun.

"The Nightman Cometh" is touring the country, and stops at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pa. tonight at 8. Other performances take place Sept. 24 at Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco and Sept. 25 at the Hollywood Palladium, in Hollywood, Calif.
The fifth season of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" starts tonight at 10 on FX.

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