The Niagaras are a Saturday Night Live episode unto themselves (a good one, that is). They provide both skit comedy and musical guest in one very entertaining package. Niagara Follies, their recent (and future) show at the One Dream, can only be categorized as an evening of rock 'n' roll theatre.
First and foremost, one must credit their sheer musical talent. They've got a sound as polished and hip as anything on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack they play as a pre-show air-filler. Lead singer, trumpet-player, and co-playwright Robert Whaley bounds onto the stage a neo-Doc Severinson in his burgundy polyester slacks and ascot to set the tone of bacchanalia for the night to come.
The musical numbers punctuate and in one case frame the quartet of comedic playlets that comprise the show. The state of sketch comedy in this city being something just this side of wretched, Whaley and Grimaldi's work is especially refreshing in its surprising level of wit and technique. Whaley himself improvises on a level
of resourcefulness and sophistication that respects the audience's intelligence while never skimping on pure, unvarnished yucks.
The objects of the troupe's satire are well-chosen for their pretension, especially Whaley's turn as the acting teacher as dilettante/fascist. There's also a remarkable, almost surreal, musical bonding between a tough Mexican father and his potential gringo son-in-law. Even bits of business that have become skit archetypes, such as the waiter dealing with the customer from Hell, are handled with a bracingly fresh imagination.
The set, costumes, and lighting at the One Dream were all uncredited. The set being a circular jobber, the costumes seemingly improvised out of thrift shops and attics, and the lighting a routine mix of spots and fades, this is, perhaps, understandable.
Niagara Follies returns to the One Dream this September. In the meantime, you can see their weekly act Wednesday nights at Mondo Cane, located at 205 Thompson Street in the West Village.
They're literate, urbane, witty, and they rock!!
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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