It is not widely known that Los Angeles has its own Broadway, but even in its 1930s heyday it was a very poor relation of New York’s.
Today only a few theatres remain in a street that has become largely taken over by Latino stores selling everything from baby rattles to electronics.
One survivor is the Orpheum, mainly because the interior has been so well restored that it earns millions of dollars hired out for TV shows and movies. American Idol has used it, and it features in the The Artist, winner of this year’s Best Picture Oscar.
Last weekend though, another idol commandeered it – ex-Python Eric Idle. And if you think that’s a terrible pun, wait till you see his show, What About Dick?
You probably will see it, in some form, because its four-night run was filmed – happily as a continuous show, without any pauses for retakes or any of the other irritating delays of normal filming.
Beforehand the local bars and restaurants were bursting with Brits, turning that piece of Broadway into Shaftesbury Avenue.
Brits take comedy very seriously, to an extent that people from other English-speaking countries – ok, Americans – don’t really grasp. I’m not boasting. It makes non-Brits think we’re weird. And we’re not, are we? No.
The night I went the house was packed for an at times dazzling exhibition by Britain’s top comedians and comedic actors: Russell Brand, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Tracy Ullman and Idle himself. Hard to believe they weren’t being played by lookalikes but no, this was the real thing.
All the same, you can have too much talent. The stars were all busy congratulating and deferring to one another. Idle spent most of the time reclining in an armchair at one side of the stage as this magnificent talent competed to please him.
To save the stars having to learn their lines, the story was presented as a radio play so they could bring their scripts on stage.
According to its website, the show begins with the birth of the personal vibrator, “invented in Shagistan in 1898 by Deepak Obi Ben Kingsley (Eddie Izzard)”, and tells the story of “the subsequent decline of the British Empire as seen through the eyes of a piano.”
Self-indulgent? Just a little, and the groans flowed as the umpteenth dick pun lurched into view. Dick is on everyone’s lips. I can’t get enough Dick. Dick’s not up to it. And so on. Other jokes were simply ancient: “She opened the door in her pyjamas. Oh, I didn’t know she had a door in her pyjamas.” Boom, boom.
I reckon Tracy Ullman and Billy Connolly tied for the prize of acting everyone else off the stage.
Connolly had persuaded Idle to let him have several lengthy monologues in an impenetrable Scots accent topped off with a strong speech impediment.
Ullman went spiralling off on wonderful cockney solos. Jane Leeves sang sweet songs, playing the upper class innocent.
Tim Curry was a relentless gay vicar. Russell Brand and Eddie Izzard jumped from character to character, showing off their versatility.
On such an evening of British lavatory humour, it was fitting that during the show the guy in front of me released a ferociously pungent fart. I naturally outed him in a loud voice and vigorously flapping my programme. Alas he didn’t rise to the bait, but a great time was had by all.