Each year, SF Sketchfest releases their schedule of three weeks of amazing performances two days before tickets go on sale in December. I’m always in the middle of Christmas shopping and at a low point in my bank account. But there’s always one show that is my #1 pick, no matter how much tickets cost or what I have to do to get them. This year, it was Wet Hot American Summer, The Live Radio Play.
This performance featured Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Christopher Meloni, Marguerite Moreau, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Michael Showalter, David Wain from the original cast as well as awesome additional like Colin Hanks, Bobcat Goldthwait, Busy Philipps, David Cross, Bruce McCullough, Andy Ritcher, Samm Levine, John Hodgman, Joshua Malina, Gillian Jacobs and many more less famous (to me) faces. David Wain read the names of all the participants at the end but the cheering was too loud to really hear anything. Luckily, SF Sketchfest posted the entire cast this morning on Facebook, so I now have a nice reference list.
I watched the movie for the first time on Netflix over the last holiday weekend. It had been in my MUST SEE queue, as a Christopher Meloni fan, but having purchased tickets to this show, I knew I needed to see the real thing before watching the stage version. I fell in LOVE with the movie and the live radio play was everything I wanted it to be and more!
Let’s start with Chris Meloni. Most of the actors were “committed” to their parts, some of them got even more into character with their wardrobe. Meloni had on tight dad jeans, white t-shirt, blue bandana around his head and the towel/apron. The “Stabler” sprawl was in full effect each time he came to the microphone, acting more like a rock star than the rest of the actors. He was clearly enjoying himself and definitely brought the passion to his long speeches. Colin Hanks stepped into the A.D. Miles role of Gene’s assistant in the kitchen, which was awesome. And Bobcat Goldthwait played the Can of Vegetables, complete with a cardboard can around his head. One of my favorite parts was watching Meloni bust out his fantastic dance moves from 11 years ago during the Cooper “training” sequence. He’s still got it!
Two moments brought down the house, cracking up cast and audience alike, and they both involved simulated sex. What can we say? We’re all 12 years old! After Meloni did his magnificent “Be proud of who you are” speech, Ken Marino rolled out a square brown “vintage” mini fridge on a cart. Meloni looked it over, stating “it’s smaller than I expected” and proceeded to hump it with gusto, while Marino rolled it toward backstage. The other moment occurred during McKinley and Ben’s sex scene. Michael Ian Black (McKinley) and Marc Evan Jackson (Ben) were fully committed, but Michael Ian Black was way more “into” it. Marc stripped off Michael’s cardigan to hoots and hollers and then Michael took off his own shirt. Finally, Michael was humping Marc and actually trying to get Marc’s pants off (with Marc fighting that), successfully getting his belt undone before the scene ended. The actors on stage were losing their SHIT! It was hilarious!
Ken Marino also committed to his part, wearing cut off denim shorts and flip flops as well as a fabulous afro wig. Busy Philipps was crazy good as Beth, nailing the Jeanne Garofalo voice cold! She and David Cross actually had pretty good chemistry, which was surprising to me. Molly Shannon also killed in her first scene, faking crying so hard she fell to the floor. Bruce McCullough was awesome as Aaron, the kid who gets her through the divorce. Andy Ritcher was a huge surprise as Molly Shannon’s ex-husband (originally played by Judah Friedlander).
David Wain narrated some of the “montage” sequences, while the actors pantomimed what he was saying for us. Most notable was Ken Marino (Victor) running from Joe Lo Truglio (Neil) on a pantomime motorcycle as well as, of course, Cooper’s training montage with Gene. If you hadn’t seen the movie, they probably would have been difficult to get. However, if you hadn’t seen the movie, you probably wouldn’t have paid $60 for a ticket to the show anyway.
While the actors had clearly run through the modified screenplay at least once, you could tell that the show wasn’t very rehearsed. There was only one real flub in the action and it wasn’t really the actors fault. Busy went up to the mic to start a scene between Beth and Henry, but Michael Ian Black (McKinley), Joshua Malina (J.J.), Colin Hanks (Gary) and Samm Levine (Fake Radio Station kid) decided to add the scene where the three counselors jump the camper to make him take a shower, swarming Samm Levine and carrying him off stage. There were a few minor line read errors, where the actors were just trying to talk too fast, but otherwise, everyone did really well with the short rehearsal time.
The only slight disappointment I had was actually Paul Rudd. While he looked like he was having fun (and enjoying making out with some of the ladies), he did kinda a half-ass job of the “clean up” scene. I know it’s a “radio play,” but we could see him and that’s one of my favorite parts of the movie. (And he had done an awesomely similar performance in last week’s Parks and Recreation.) It was fine, and still funny, but definitely not the same petulance that he brought to the screen in the original.
However, there were great little moments that made up for it. During one of the Beth/Henry scenes, I noticed Meloni with his arm around Amy Poehler, whispering in her ear. She was laughing as he was pointing to something. At one point, they walked over to the sound effects table to look at something and then back to where they had been standing at the back of the stage. The next scene was Gene’s “hump the fridge” speech I referenced earlier. There’s a throwaway moment in the movie, where Gene comes out of the kitchen and the swinging door hits Susie’s (Amy’s) tray, knocking it (and her) over. (She recently referenced this in an interview, saying that even though it hurt, she didn’t want “to seem like a person who couldn’t take a hit to the stomach with a metal tray from the guy who was in Oz.”) As Meloni made his way to the mic, Amy had grabbed the tray with stuff from the sound effects table and he bumped into her, knocking it over once again. Clearly an unscripted moment and Meloni added another laugh to the show.
At another point in the show, Michael Showalter and Paul Rudd were having a conversation and Paul Rudd says “Fine” in this perfect little way that just cracked everyone up. Michael broke character, saying “I just love that. Do it again!” So, Paul said, “Fine.” again and we all died laughing all over again.
All too soon, the campers were saying goodbye to each other and before I knew it, the actors were taking their curtain call. David Wain read the names as the audience screamed and applauded. Ken Marino threw his awesome afro wig into the crowd, followed by Meloni running to grab his bandana to throw to the crowd (lucky folks with seats better than mine!). The actors were applauding each other and it looked like the greatest last minute of SNL ever. Meloni then grabbed the hands of those next to him and got everyone to do a company bow, just like a high school play. The cast got a standing ovation, which only got louder, when the “understudies” left the stage, and the original cast members took another bow.
I left the theater, smiling like a crazy person, my stomach still clenching from laughing so hard. I wanted to watch it again and again. Just like when I attended Neil Patrick Harris in conversation with Brian Henson last year, I wished I had a DVD of the show. But for now, the memory of the experience, shared only with those people inside the theatre, will have to suffice.