Written by: Cody Melcher. Directed by: Dylan Schaefer. At: City Lit Theater 1020 W Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: BrownPaperTickets.com; $20. Runs through: Dec. 4
Cody Melcher is presenting his two playsStar Spangled Sitcoms: Huzzah and John Adamsin the City Lit theater space in Edgewater. Huzzah is a parody based on the beoved sitcom Cheers, and John Adams is a parody of the much-celebrated spinoff Frasier. What if these two sitcoms were populated with and starring well-known icons of U.S. history? This is your chance to find out.
Huzzah puts Cheers in a tavern run by Sam Adams ( Shaun Hayden ), who is putting the moves on snooty Betsy Ross ( Mary-Kate Arnold ) while planning the Boston Tea Party. The fun here is putting all the known archetypes of Cheers into historical figures. So Norm, the beer-swilling guy permanently at the bar, is now Paul Revere ( Andy Gwyn ) and the bar "know it all" spouting facts is now Ben Franklin ( Billy Sullivan ) instead of Cliff. I especially loved the conceit of smart and creative Ben Franklin suddenly becoming the blowhard of the bar.
Some of the others aren't as successful. Robert Cortez's John Hancock isn't as ditzy or sweet as the Coach or Woody stand-in. I think he can be much dumber. After accepting the premise of the play, it gets more fun as it goes along. I really admired the cleverness of Huzzah but I admit I didn't laugh very much.
I had a different reaction to John Adams. This Frasier parody really shows how close Melcher has paid attention to what makes both these sitcoms work. They are both different worlds and tempos, and he nails them. John Adams ( Nathan Pease ) is holding a Thanksgiving dinner at the White House and invites previous President George Washington ( George Ellison ) as his guest. To his dismay, rival Alexander Hamilton ( Ben Kemper ) shows up as well ( in a non-singing/non-rapping version ).
I can't praise Nathan Pease enough, as he really understands what makes Frasier funny as a character. His characterization isn't as pompous, but his exasperation at everything is very funny ( especially at Esther/Daphne's endless stories ). I definitely laughed out loud at this one. Melcher places the Frasier/Niles relationship/rivalry between Adams and Hamilton. Kemper, as Hamilton, is up to the challenge; their moments together are really fun.
The building of the wacky situations is so in line with the sitcom and everything works here. The only negative is George Washington as the stand-in for Frasier's father, Martin Crane; Ellison is too soft-spoken and polite. This character needs to be gritty and irascible. Since it was played originally by Chicago theater and Steppenwolf icon John Mahoney, these are big shoes to fill for a Chicago production. A little tweaking in this role, and it would be much stronger.
Melcher has a great grasp of history and certainly understands these sitcoms. He is obviously a real fan of both. Dylan Schaefer's direction keeps the action moving and on point. A large cast makes this a very ambitious undertaking for this company. However, there are also some "episode recaps" included that could be removed.
This is for fans of U.S. history and these shows. As for the characters here, "everybody does know their names."