insightful in-depth reviews

6, Sep 2017
Braithwaite photo by Bill D'Agostino

Braithwaite’s backstage stories

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

Which Reminds Me. Written and directed by Tony Braithwaite. Through October 1, 2017, at the Act II Playhouse, Ambler, Pennsylvania.

Tony Braithwaite can do a one-man show on almost any topic and entertain us. This summer he’s chosen a new subject which is close to his heart — theater experiences — and calls the production Which Reminds Me.

Onstage mishaps, backstage gossip and barbs from critics each are given time, as Braithwaite conversationally ties these stories together. I had just returned to the Philadelphia area from two weeks in the warm and dry New Mexican desert, and here I was confronting cold and wet weather. Like the “Man in Chair” from the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, I was feeling blue — until Tony came along to cheer me up.

Missed cues, clumsy entrances and pratfalls were amusing, but what really engrossed us were excerpts from critics’ reviews of past Act II productions. Tony said that it was too painful for him to read aloud from bad reviews, so he had them quoted by a man who is known for denouncing “fake news.”

Yes, Braithwaite presented his impression of Donald Trump, first revealed in Act II’s Electile Dysfunction last season click here, reading from published critiques by Toby Zinman, Jim Rutter and others and denouncing them as “liars.”

Even when a Braithwaite show is carefully planned and cleverly written, as this was, the highlight of almost every one is the ad-lib audience participation. Tony brings an unsuspecting patron from his seat and asks him questions about show biz. Braithwaite has a talent for ribbing his victims without insulting them too harshly, and his improvised humor is impressive.

Well-produced videos by Patrick Dolan revealed local theater celebrities telling their favorite backstage stories. (Philadelphia’s Rob McClure, who starred on Broadway in Honeymoon in Vegas, was outstanding.)

Braithwaite also reprised his excellent impression of Carol Channing. I won’t give away his Channing anecdote, but here’s another, somewhat similar story about her that was recounted by the actor who most-frequently played Horace opposite her, Max Showalter:

Max was performing Hello, Dolly with Channing in Las Vegas. She forgot a line and Showalter spoke a version of the speech to try and get her back on track. Chagrined that the audience sensed something was wrong, she defiantly broke the fourth wall, walked down to the footlights and went into a rant about Max’s behavior. “Here we all are,” she whined (in that twee Channing voice) “trying to have a good time and enjoy ourselves, and here is this awful man trying to ruin it for us.” Max just stood there, astounded, until she ran out of steam and walked back to her position and resumed the scene. Channing went on with the show and never ever referred to what had happened.

For other stories in this vein, see the Act II production, which includes valuable contributions by pianist Dan Matarazzo and actor Michal Kortsarts.