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Age of Exploration: Bob Greene (left) and Richard Frederick tackle the New World as Columbus and Queen Isabella in 'The Big Bang.'

Prop Music

The history of the world unfolds in song in 'The Big Bang'

By Traci Vogel

AT ITS ESSENCE, The Big Bang presents a very public job interview. Jed (Bob Greene) and Boyd (Richard Frederick) seek financing for "the most expensive musical extravaganza ever produced"--an $83 million history of the world of Cecil DeMille proportions. From the very first atom to Adam and Eve and up through Eva Braun (who sings "Loving Him Is Where I Went Wrong"), the production promises to render history Mel Brooks style, and no one is keener to sell you, the audience, on it than these two eager producers.

But what really makes The Big Bang tick is its setting, with props to the props. Jed and Boyd have secured the use of a New York loft belonging to proctologist Sid Lipbalm and his wife, currently vacationing in Israel. In their energetic pursuit of investors, the pair attempt to enact a series of the musical numbers using whatever's at hand as costumes and props. Thus, every banal object in the Lipbalm's apartment is ripe for potential hilarity. I won't ruin the surprises by telling you what gets used as what, but I will say: Keep your eye on the lampshade.

When The Big Bang debuted in New York in 2000, it was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for lyrics. What's delightful about the songs is their good old-fashioned twisted wordplay. When Mother Mary, for example, complains to Mrs. Gandhi about the burdens of parenting a god in "Motherhood Is One Hell of a Job," Mrs. Gandhi replies, "I don't know why you're so hyper. My son still wears the diaper."

A few of these numbers crash and burn--the Christian-eating lion's paeon to dinnertime, for example, is a little weak--but for the most part the two-hour-long musical keeps a surprisingly upbeat pace. Richard Frederick's energy level never flags, even (or perhaps especially) when his character is clad in nothing but underwear, and his depiction of Queen Nefertiti belting out "Viva la Diva" had the audience doubled over. Greene excels at impersonations: I couldn't decide which was funnier--his Julius Caesar-meets-Marlon Brando, his Atila the Hun-as-Frank Sinatra or his Shanghai Lil.

Which reminds me: another old-fashioned aspect of The Big Bang is its disregard for political correctness. Shots are fired at every minority group here, so leave your Berkeley sensibilities at home. Instead of exploding stereotypes, The Big Bang uses them to expand your funny bone.

The Big Bang, presented by American Musical Theatre of San Jose, plays Thursday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 7 and 10pm and Sunday at 3pm for an open-ended run at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro Square, San Jose. Tickets are $45. (408.283.0200 or tosps.com)

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From the March 27-April 2, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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