Murray Hill Live from the Sansabelt Room
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
September 30, 2006
If you've got a hankering for some old-fashioned yuks and flesh jiggling—you know the kind I'm talking about: borscht-belt comedy like your grandparents enjoyed in the Catskills; classy striptease minus the tipping and the lap dances—then you couldn't do yourself a better favor then going down to Mo Pitkin's House of Satisfaction (how fitting) and checking out drag king Murray Hill's hilarious new show, Murray Hill: Live from the Sansabelt Room. In just under 90 minutes, the self-proclaimed "hardest working middle-aged man in show biz" tells some (bad) jokes, spins an anecdote or two, warbles a couple of tunes (badly), and gets some support, both ample and otherwise, from voluptuous burlesque queen Dirty Martini and sarcastically dry accompanist Lance Cruce, all while trying to hold together an act that is constantly on the verge of collapsing. But, that's the point of the show: the conceit of Murray Hill: Live from the Sansabelt Room is that Murray's act stinks. Why else would a guy his age be playing the Lower East Side? There's nothing second-rate about the presentation, however. Only a talented and tight-knit group of artists could pull off something this hysterically bad.
A lot of Murray's act consists of Murray talking about himself. So, what kind of guy is he? The kind who paid his entertainment dues doing his act on the graveyard shift at the Atlantic City IHOP. The kind who "went to the Fame school back when it was called P.S. 0." The kind who has been in show business so long he's wearing "a suit J.C. Penney made for me himself." In other words, he's a show biz lifer. His nickname is even "Mr. Showbiz" (and he's got the onstage nameplate to prove it). And, even though he's rubbed elbows with the stars—Liza Minnelli, Hillary Clinton, Hugo Chavez—Murray has retained his common-man sensibility. He started out as a busboy, and cannot stifle the urge to bus some tables during the show. And, he can turn Thanksgiving heartbreak into gambling money at OTB (a very funny story I'll let him tell you).
But, the show isn't all about Mr. Showbiz—everyone gets in on the action. The nimble Dirty Martini ("Miss 44 and a whole lot more!") duets with Murray, then lets it all hang out by stripping to her robust almost-birthday suit. One of the waitresses gets a solo turn on saxophone. And, there are two audience participation sections: the first is a sing-along of "Bingo the Farmer," and the other an audience dance-off, complete with prizes.
Murray and his collaborators are finely-tuned to each other's nuances. They can finish each other's sentences and anticipate the other's next move. I don't know how much of this show is scripted, but the high level at which everyone performs makes it feel completely off-the-cuff. On the night I attended, when Murray admitted he was performing with a 103-degree fever, was loaded up on pills and caffeine, "and I am fucked up right now," I believed him. Murray's immersion into playing...well, himself, is total. The audience never doubts that he's anyone else except who he says he is. It's a terrific performance.
I should also mention that the dining room at Mo Pitkin's has been redone splendidly to resemble an old Catskills retreat showroom, complete with barcaloungers and brisket on the menu. Hip-shaking, mid-tempo organ instrumentals, like "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the MGs, serve as pre-show music. You can even order a drink whose main ingredients are Jack Daniels and Dr. Brown's cream soda. Yowza!
Murray Hill: Live from the Sansabelt Room is just flat-out entertaining, a total riotous experience. But, as Murray himself would say, "I'm an entertainer." High tail it down to Mo Pitkin's and find out for yourself. And, don't forget to order the brisket.