The Arty Semite

Why a Show About Show Business Isn't Entertaining

By Eileen Reynolds

  • Print
  • Share Share
Carol Rosegg
Alice Playten (from left), Peter Scolari and Bob Ari in ‘It Must Be Him.’

After years of writing for the likes of Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore and Bing Crosby, Kenny Solms has finally struck out on his own. The result is “It Must Be Him,” a frothy musical comedy in the well-worn tradition of shows about show business, which opened September 1 at New York’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

Louie Wexler (Peter Scolari), the protagonist of Solms’s transparently autobiographical tale, is a frustrated, aging writer who lives in a Beverly Hills mansion but fears that Hollywood has left him behind. Louie’s prime — like Solms’s — was in the golden age of variety television, and he now spends his unhappy days tinkering with an unfinished screenplay and bickering with his sassy Hispanic housekeeper. Worst of all, he’s desperately lonely: In lieu of a real boyfriend, Louie pines after the gorgeous 23-year-old Scott (Patrick Cummings), an aspiring actor who lives with him but sleeps in a separate bedroom.

Louie is Jewish, a detail that seems to have been included only as a pretense for a few scenes in which he is haunted by the ghosts of his parents (Bob Ari and Alice Playten) — a stereotypical pair who nag, vex, and smother from beyond the grave. The father accuses Louie of being jealous that his brother got the bigger bar mitzvah; the mother alternately fusses and consoles. (Louie is also visited, inexplicably, by apparitions of his brother and of a frumpy girl he dated in high school, both of whom are living.)

Predictably, Louie’s movie — a romance based on his relationship with Scott — is a disaster: Louie’s agent sends home all the actors halfway through the first reading, and the real Scott takes up with another man his own age. It’s a grim situation, but despite Louie’s persistent failures — to sell a script, to get a man, to write a masterpiece — he never earns our sympathy. Solms pathologically avoids poignant moments, opting instead for an endless barrage of easy one-liners calculated to elicit knowing — if not genuinely mirthful — laughter. (Scott doesn’t even know who Debbie Reynolds is. The horror!) Heartbroken and penniless, Louie wails, “My last credit was for the Osmonds’ Christmas Special!”

Things pick up, momentarily, when Louie decides to adapt his failed screenplay into a musical. Like all good parodies, composer Larry Grossman’s musical numbers are devilishly close to the real thing: His love theme is only slightly mushier than something by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and a brief musical quotation from “West Side Story’s” “Maria” drew the biggest laugh of the night. Just when we’re beginning to enjoy the show-within-a-show, it ends — but not before we’re subjected to a raunchy number about sadomasochistic gay sex, complete with chains, leather and enormous dildos.

The actors make valiant efforts to bring the flat characters that Solms has written to life, but they can only do so much. Liz Torres struggles to make the housekeeper into something other than a tired stereotype; Harris Doran brings subtle physical humor to the role of Louie’s assistant; and Peter Scolari is appealingly scattered and neurotic as Louie, although his singing is uncomfortably quiet. Edward Staudenmayer is particularly fun to watch in a series of silly bit parts, from a flamboyant actor to a smarmy reality-show emcee.

At a scant 75 minutes, the show feels long, partly because we’re made to sit through so many iterations of the same story about Louie’s dreary life. Finally, Louie and his agent decide they’re in love; they’re nearly the same age, which makes them an “appropriate” pair, and the agent buys Louie’s house so they can live together. It’s an ending that’s as abrupt and contrived as anything Louie might have written. Thinking of Solms, one can’t help thinking that perhaps Louie isn’t the only one who has trouble writing convincingly about his own life.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: West Side Story, Peter Scolari, Peter J. Sharpe Theater, Patrick Cummings, Mary Tyler Moore, Larry Grossman, Kenny Solms, It Must Be Him, Edward Staudenmayer, Carol Burnett, Bob Ari, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Bing Crosby, Alice Playten

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.