The Big Bang
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Association (CLO) are running the two-man musical The Big Bang at the CLO Cabaret downtown. This over-the-top musical stars Marcus Stevens and Tim Hartman, who play Jed and Boyd, two men aspiring to put their Broadway musical into production. Complete with 1400 wigs, 6248 costumes, and 318 cast members, it only costs a measly $83 million dollars to produce. The problem is that Jed and Boyd are a little low on cash, so they’ve brought in a load of investors (the audience) and have decided to cram their 13-hour, four-part musical into a mere 80 minutes, featuring 16 of their best songs and playing all the parts themselves as they pitch their dream show in the hopes of getting that $83 million.
The story of their musical? The entire history of the universe, from the big bang to King Henry VIII to Woodstock. It’s not completely accurate, but it definitely beats attending Introduction to World History.
The night opens with an offering of various chocolates, cheeses, and bags of groceries from Whole Foods as Jed and Boyd venture around the audience, clearly sucking up to their prospective “investors” (which is why it’s best to reserve a table near the front). With the use of an apartment belonging to a cute old Jewish couple on vacation, whose gigantic Andy Warhol style portrait is staring the audience in the face, they begin the shortened version of their musical with the number “The Big Bang.” From there, Jed and Boyd move through time via song to the Garden of Eden and later a surreal meeting of the Virgin Mary and Gandhi’s mother. They construct the scenes using the limited resources they have: the borrowed apartment and the furniture inside of it. The two gradually destroy the apartment (which is being used without its owner’s permission), ripping the drapes down to use as togas; punching a hole in a clock for Napoleon’s hat; and stealing bed sheets, blankets, and pillows to make all sorts of costumes.
The musical’s version of history is rather skewed, making the show all the more hilarious. Its humor is based off of cultural stereotypes and various pop culture references. From Jewish slaves creating the pyramids to Pocahontas and Minnehaha criticizing the dating scene, this musical makes fun of every part of society. The songs themselves feature wit, cute puns, and parodies of history. Selections include “Free Food and Frontal Nudity,” which is centered on Adam and Eve, while “Cooking for Henry” features Hartman and Stevens playing Henry VIII’s chefs, complaining about how much he eats.
With Caesar done in the style of The Godfather, and Queen Nefertiti as a Diana Ross version of a queen, impressions fly everywhere, and the two men change characters left and right as they try to impersonate almost every notable figure throughout the ages. The clothing changes keep the musical moving at a rapid pace, and Hartman and Stevens do an excellent job going from one character impression to another, one of the highlights of the show. They may be a little enthusiastic in their roles, exhibiting a bit of overacting (even for a musical), but they still provide a funny night overall. Some songs are not as funny as they could be, making them a little long, but both actors are excellent singers and the humorous bits certainly outnumber the dry ones.
The funniest moments, however, come not from the script itself, but instead from the pair’s improvisations and interactions with the audience. Occasionally they are so funny they break character and make each other laugh. Pulling a member out of the audience last Saturday, Hartman and Stevens mocked both him and themselves as they asked the audience member to help Hartman get dressed.
In addition to the hilarious unscripted banter, the musical has plenty of other strong points, including a twist ending which throws Jed and Boyd into a panic; the two rush around trying to fix the apartment and get one last dime from their investors.
Though it’s not as satirical as most CLO productions, The Big Bang succeeds as a jam-packed parody of history crammed into a fast-paced 90 minutes. It’s certainly worth a trip downtown. The Cabaret also serves dinner and dessert before the show, making it a great place for that Valentine’s Day Date. Be wary, however, of those couples that get a bit too comfortable in public.
The Big Bang was originally performed by lyricist Boyd Graham, and composer Jed Feuer, playing themselves. It first premiered in 1997 under the title Free Food and Frontal Nudity in Durham, N.C. The present title premiered in New York in 2000, and it has been in production around the U.S. ever since.