Trav S.D.'s Health and Wealth Elixir Program
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 2, 2006
The first thing you need to know, if you don't already, is that Trav S.D.—playwright, critic, performer, impresario, composer, all-around man-of-the-theatre—has recently written a book, No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famou, which, as its title implies, is all about that distinctly American entertainment tradition known as vaudeville. (I've read it; it's quite good.) Trav S.D.'s Health & Wealth Elixir Program is a brilliant recreation of the form that Trav S.D. loves: a 40-minute vaudeville bill for 2006, performed with pizzazz by Mr. S.D. himself along with a cast of three stooges (meant lovingly, but that's what they are) who sing, dance, clown, act, play musical instruments, and often behave very silly, all in the cause of entertaining their audience and making a buck. (Hey, it is the $ellout Festival.)
Or perhaps the first thing you need to know is just that Trav S.D.'s Health & Wealth Elixir Program is a hoot and a half. There's a terrible card trick that is all incantantion and absolutely no magic whatsoever. There's a supposed theatre critic planted in the audience who complains that the place is dusty, after which Trav S.D. summons three "Okies" for comment because, after all, who knows dust like an "Okie"? There's a radio show (performed live) in which a modern-day media whore acts like a super-hero. There's a goofy opening number called "The Mountebanks Song" in which female stooge Angela Lewonczyk (hilarious throughout) upstages everybody by making faces and playing the kazoo. There's a bit in which male stooge Adam Swiderski (unflappable throughout) plays a lovely piece on the guitar. There's another bit in which shorter male stooge Robert Pinnock (fearlessly nutty throughout) brings out a succession of invisible animals for our edification.
If this doesn't sound giddy or inspired enough to make you want to drop everything to see Trav S.D. and his band try to sell you his book and a bottle of his alleged medicine (there are numbers called "Buy My Book" and "Trav S.D.'s Health & Wealth Elixir" dedicated specifically to these objectives), then maybe I'll go back to the intellectual approach. For if you know about vaudeville, then you'll recognize that everything I mentioned in the preceding paragraph harkens back to the five-a-day: broad comedy, novelty acts, music, and charlatanism of every stripe were staples of the form; what Trav S.D. has done here is bring them slyly up-to-date while preserving their innocence and charm. He even closes with a number called "The Bye-Bye Song" that essentially rewrites the Groucho Marx chestnut "Hello, I Must Be Going."
I think Trav S.D. is a very very funny man, and it's always a treat for me to see him on stage. Here, he dons tails, painted-on glasses á la Bobby Clark and a greasepaint moustache á la Groucho; he sings, he dances, he cavorts, he hustles, he tells bad jokes and outright lies. Lewonczyk, Swiderski, and Pinnock are as ripe a bunch of second bananas any modern-day vaudeville show could hope for. And good old American vaudevillian fun is had by all.