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

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“Why, oh, why do the wrong people travel
When the right people stay at home.”
From Sail Away by Noel Coward

This opening lyric sets the tone for On the Road Again, a cabaret show written and performed by Tony Braithwaite and Jennifer Childs. The production sold out its premiere run last January, and returns for a summer reprise.

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

These are Philadelphia comedy heavyweights. Childs is the founding Artistic Director of 1812 Productions which is “Philadelphia’s All Comedy Theatre Company,” while Braithwaite is Artistic Director of Act II productions in Ambler, which hosted the co-production.

The subject is travel, with its joys and difficulties. There’s no plot to the series of songs and sketches (created by the artists with directorial assistance from Mary Carpenter), but with comedians like these, who cares.

Tony and Jen, as they call themselves, never actually get anywhere, but they sure have fun trying. Jen tries to operate a GPS that gives directions in the voices of, among many, Bill Clinton, Jack Nicholson, and Katherine Hepburn, all cunningly impersonated by Tony. They are musical performers as well; they finish the evening with “Two Swells” from Easter Parade. The whole thing is sewn together by the expert piano stylings of Owen Robbins, who also provides some delightful between-scene commentary.The players are at their best in the “improv” sequence of the show when two unsuspecting audience members are coerced into starring in a game show. The sly, joyful, interplay and banter of Tony and Jen, all made up on the spot, is priceless.

The charm and charisma of the performers carries the night. The material itself is uneven. Much of the humor is of the “condescension” variety: the audience laughs at characters they feel superior to. American tourists are surely some of the stupidest in the world especially when overheard opining “I saw the Eiffel Tower. I prefer the one at Epcot.” One funny but overlong sketch features the world’s worst cruise ship act, on what must be the world’s most typical cruise line. The “groaners” fly fast and heavy here.  Finally, as funny as the improvisation is, it is still a rerun of The Newlywed Game critically regarded as the most tasteless television since Queen for a Day.

Two wonderful performers, a pianist, and a bare stage.

The cabaret runs for only two weeks before Tony begins work on Electile Dysfunction, about guess what, and Jen returns to 1812 downtown with This is the Week That Is: The Election Special.

Jennifer and Tony are performing a great community service. Never was our country more in need of humor than now. Their vast and continuing experience onstage makes them the local stars they are.

Running Time: 70 minutes, without intermission.

On the Road Again plays through Sunday, August 7, 2016 at Act II Playhouse – 56 East Butler Avenue, in Ambler, PA. For tickets call (215) 654-0200, or purchase them online.

LINK:
Megan Diehl’s review of On the Road Again on January 17, 2016 on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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Neal Newman
Over the past 40 years, Neal Newman has directed extensively in classical, Shakespeare, modern theater, musicals, and opera. He trained as an actor at California State University, and trained in Shakespeare at ACT of San Francisco. He trained as a director at Carnegie Mellon, and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He directed many Off-Broadway productions in New York, ran a summer stock company, and directed five seasons of Shakespeare in the Park in Philadelphia, and many opera and Gilbert & Sullivan productions. He was a New York Critic for Show Business Magazine for 7 years, and has written for many local papers and websites. He is co author of 'GOLDILOCKS AND THE DOWN HOME BEARS' presented at Steel River Playhouse, and will soon present a reading of the new musical 'LITTLE PRINCESS.'