Story: Ken Haller, a pediatrician by day and versatile performer at night, has packaged an abundance of nostalgia with a bit of American history and even sociology into 90 minutes of entertainment titled The TV Show! In addition to themes from various TV series, Haller dips as well into original musicals made for TV in the medium’s ‘golden age,’ and even offers up an amusing medley of melodies for TV commercials written by one Barry Manilow “before he was Barry Manilow.”
Highlights: Haller has an easy-going style that meshes well with cabaret’s informal appearance. He jokes casually with the audience about his upbringing in Hicksville, New York, a Long Island suburb that actually was named for its founder, a 19th century merchant named Hicks, leading to a rather unfortunate appellation. While maintaining an upbeat and humorous approach to his selection of tunes, Haller also makes poignant observations about growing up ‘different’ in the America of the 1950s and ‘60s, a time when Haller observes there were limited options for gay people such as he.
Other Info: While Haller’s voice can be described as adequate or ‘functional,’ he carries himself with confidence and a bit of bravado and knows well how to utilize the cabaret form to shape a story with music. In this case, he’s aided greatly by the considerable skills of musical director Al Fischer, who serves as pianist, good buddy, foil and noble accompanist on Haller’s tribute to the small screen.
The show is a mixture of familiar tunes, such as the theme from Cheers performed with a surprisingly effective slow beat or Best Friend, the theme from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. The latter is particularly ironic, since star Bill Bixby was Haller’s first crush when Bixby co-starred with Ray Walston in the early ‘60s comedy, My Favorite Martian. As Haller wryly noted, Bixby’s character, reporter Tim O'Hara, spent most of the time searching for his invisible ‘Uncle Martin,’ and was a truly terrible reporter, since he was sitting on the ‘scoop of the century.’
What better way to kick off the evening than with This Could Be the Start of Something Big, written by and the signature tune for Renaissance man Steve Allen, who was the first host of The Tonight Show as well as memorable series such as Meeting of the Minds on PBS?
Haller referred to a number of shows that incorporated magic, witchcraft or mystery in a clever montage that blended together the themes of Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and The Patty Duke Show (“identical cousins, which are genetically impossible,” he noted). We heard snippets of I Love Lucy and Bonanza and even a tune about TV and suburbia, Somewhere That’s Green, from the Broadway show, Little Shop of Horrors.
A segment devoted to two superior TV musicals, Cinderella by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Evening Primrose by Stephen Sondheim, demonstrated how television could bring high art to a medium often condemned by its detractors as low-brow. Haller, though, is an unabashed fan of TV, and makes no apologies for the hours of education and entertainment it has brought him from his Irish Catholic upbringing on Long Island to contemporary times.
Fischer showed his prowess on the keyboards with a quick and clever homage to various genres mentioned by Haller, whether children’s fare (Sesame Street), documentaries (National Geographic), holiday shows (A Charlie Brown Christmas), doctor series (St. Elsewhere), science fiction (Star Trek), police series (Hill Street Blues) and even ‘cop/lawyer shows’ (the famous two-note beginning to Law & Order).
A bit featuring characters from Gilligan’s Island performing Hamlet via opera was likely better on paper than it appeared on stage. However, Haller recovered with an affecting version of It’s Not Easy Being Green from Sesame Street when referencing his own identity. A knowing comment about the importance of sexual tension for famous TV couples (Cheers, The X Files, Moonlighting) culminated in a satisfying rendition of the latter’s theme song.
Just as he began the concert with homage to the legendary Allen, Haller concluded his one-act set with a tribute to two of the small screen’s most beloved and enduring leading ladies, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett. He quoted Moore’s landmark character, Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, about who or what actually comprises a family and sang her familiar theme. Then, for an encore he imitated Burnett’s famous show finale with an empty bucket and a heart full of love and delight.
The TV Show! is not for snobs but a pleasant evening for everyone else.
Cabaret: The TV Show!
Performer: Ken Haller
Venue: Kranzberg Black Box Theatre
Dates: Run concluded