Last Friday, I was a guest on Michael Graham’s popular talk radio show, which airs from 3-7 p.m., on 96.9 WTKK. I was participating in the final hour of his broadcast–the “That’s a Wrap” segment–during which Graham and other pundits recap some of the news stories of the week. The other guest that night was the great Charlie Hall, the brainchild of the uproarious Mass Hysteria, a “musical, satirical cabaret that pokes fun at the local goings-on, personalities, and politics of Massachusetts.” After the broadcast, Hall was kind enough to extend an invitation to my boyfriend and me to come to the next day’s show for a free viewing, which, of course, I could not resist.
Mass Hysteria isn’t new to Beantown–it debuted more than 15 years ago, receiving rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. Eventually, Hall, a Rhode Island native known affectionately by many as the “Rhode Island State Jester,” put the show on hiatus, deciding to focus his attention on his other creation, Ocean State Follies, a similarly-themed musical spoof about Rhode Island. Perhaps inspired by recent absurdities here in our glorious, uber-liberal, scandal-plagued Commonwealth of Massachusetts (umm … three consecutive speakers of the house thrown in jail?), Hall, a stand-up comic by trade who has appeared on such programs as the Joan Rivers Show, Caroline’s Comedy Hour, America’s Funniest People and Star Search ’93 (he was a semi-finalist!), felt the timing was ripe in the Bay State for a return to the roast.
“There’s something incestuous about the big cities in New England,” said Hall in an email to me. “We all seem to know each other, are related to each other–it breeds corruption. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining: Without it I’d have no show!”
I had never heard of Mass Hysteria–surprising, given my affinity for politics and the nonsensical folly it often engenders–but Graham couldn’t stop raving about how funny it was, filling me with high hopes for a night full of delicious Schadenfreude as my boyfriend and I headed over to the back room of Club Café this past Saturday night for the 7:30 p.m. performance.
It just so happened that Hall, who greeted us at the door, was starring in the show that night as one of the main performers–one of his cast members had to bow out to commemorate the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. But the show must go on! Luckily, Hall knew the material cold–after all, he scripted each of the acts and wrote the lyrics to all of the songs–and had a decent singing voice to boot.
The show kicked off with a number on the oh-so-despicable tradition of corruption in Massachusetts, setting up the tone and direction for what was to come. The regular cast members present on Saturday–Tom Berry, Danielle Hecht and Krystal Bly–performed excellently throughout. Given their acting chops, great comedic timing and superb vocal skills, one might wonder why Broadway hasn’t come calling.
Each song was set to a familiar tune, making the sentiment and lyrics even funnier. Cases in point: a Catherine Gregg-Gisele Bundchen duet, played by Hecht and Bly, respectively, made use of Tammy Wynette’s famous tune “Stand By Your Man;” and a biting spoof of Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray’s recent driving mishap, during which he says he fell asleep at the wheel, was set to The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman.”
While the show often dealt with various incidents involving state corruption, many acts focused on more lighthearted subjects. Hall’s skits poked fun at all things Massachusetts, from notable politicians (and wannabes), such as Mitt Romney, Elizabeth Warren, Joseph Kennedy III (portrayed hilariously by Berry as an overly ebullient, dunderhead schoolboy who giggles and fumbles awkwardly), Tom “Mumbles” Menino, and Bawney Fwwank (“My Bawney Lies Over the Ocean”) to established institutions and landmarks, such as the MBTA, the completely unremarkable paint-stained gas tank on Route 93 and the Citgo sign, the four beloved Boston sports teams, and the One, the Only … Dunkin’ Donuts. Issues such as the ruckus over gay marriage and casinos (“comiiiing to town”) were also satirized.
Of all the bits during Saturday’s performance, two were, hands down, the funniest: The first was a number featuring Hall as a resurrected Ted Kennedy (a dubious halo hovering above his head, a margarita in hand), flanked by two angels, singing altered lyrics to the tune of “Jesus Christ Superstar”; the second, a pee-in-your-pants skit featuring Berry as a knucklehead professor of “Bostonics,” in which he helped the audience understand, through the use of flash cards, the often-confusing phonics of the Boston accent. My boyfriend and I were in legitimate hysterics.
I highly recommend Mass Hysteria. The acting, comedy, and singing are marvelous, and it feels great to support an unpretentious, grassroots production. There will be a few more shows in April at Club Café (check out www.masshysteriathemusical.com for the schedule), but Hall is looking for additional venues in the coming months. The cast will perform pretty much anywhere (private parties, business meetings or fundraisers) they are hired to go–except Mitt Romney’s backyard.