Review: ‘On the Road Again’ at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, PA

On a damp, drizzly night in January, it’s hard to fight the impulse to want to jump on a plane in pursuit of a warmer, sunnier locale. Fortunately, On the Road Again, a world premiere now playing at Act II Playhouse, is the perfect chance for a getaway without the price of a plane ticket. Produced in collaboration with 1812 Productions, and from the brains of Philadelphia favorites Tony Braithwaite and Jennifer Childs, On the Road Again charms and cheers in equal measure.

 Jennifer Childs and Tony Braithwaite. Photo by plate3.com.
Jennifer Childs and Tony Braithwaite. Photo by plate3.com.

Performed and developed by Braithwaite and Childs, with directorial guidance by Mary Carpenter, the duo mixes an old-school vaudeville or variety show structure with their own brand of rib-tickling comedy. As the title implies, travel and touring provide the inspiration for the compilation of songs and sketches, using material both old and new. While some of the classic songs with their genial peppiness hearken back to the days of watching The Lawrence Welk Show with your grandparents, there are a few more familiar references that bring the evening slightly more up to date including a montage of obnoxious tourists and a GPS voiced by a frisky former president.

The setting is familiar: A few stools, a collection of hats and glasses, a tuxedo, a cocktail dress and a piano for good measure. Braithwaite and Childs host the evening like an extraordinarily well-built dual cabaret. It never hurts that the pair is so charming that I’d happily watch them hang wallpaper together for an hour, which I’m sure would still turn out hilarious and adorable. Each segment ties smoothly into the next, not to mention a surprisingly entertaining audience participation section in the middle.

Jennifer Childs is not only a powerhouse of jokes and impressions, but also delightfully unique and at ease in any situation. Tony Braithwaite, equally gifted in comedy, brings an effervescence and flexibility, making them fantastic compliments to each other in style. Considering the amount of music used for storytelling, neither has the perfectly trained voice, but are seasoned veterans who know how to use their gifts to their advantage. Most importantly, the show is very aware of exactly what it is, and not afraid to joke about it. Braithwaite and Childs, as Artistic Directors of Act II and 1812 respectively, craft an evening that features their greatest assets with a wink to their old-school style and a heaping helping of the chemistry they’ve built over years of working together.

Set Designer Maura Roche and Lighting Designer Andy Shaw create a well-shaped environment for the miscellany that ensues. And pianist Owen Robbins not only sets a strong musical foundation, but also jumps in to deliver a joke or two in transitions when necessary. If you have any kind of affection for Childs or Braithwaite as a dynamic duo of creative and comedic energy, you’ll be glad you caught this production.

After taking their well-deserved bows, Childs and Braithwaite took a moment to caution the audience to only recommend the production to 56 of their closest friends, the exact figure being the only number of tickets remaining for the rest of the show’s January run as of opening night, which will surely disappear quickly. But fret not, the production will return for an encore this summer as part of  Act II’s season. So while the weather will surely be more pleasant by then, you’ll definitely want to find a way to hop on board with On the Road Again when you get the chance.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

On the Road Again plays through January 31, 2016 at Act II Playhouse – 56 East Butler Avenue, in Ambler, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 654-0200, or purchase them online.

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