I lived in Southern California until I moved to NYC at age 27; and from ages 3 to 19 (1964 to 1980) I resided in the city of Orange. The main street in my neighborhood was Tustin Avenue, which was populated with countless fast food and casual restaurants including McDonalds, Taco Bell, Marie Callender’s, A&W (Root Beer) Drive Up, Arby’s, Jack In The Box, Winchell’s Donuts, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, IHOP, Baskin Robbins and others whose memories have been lost to time.
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To many, comedian and actor John Belushi still feels like a contemporary artist — owing to the tenacity with which his work has embedded itself in pop culture — but the fact is that Belushi has been dead for a long time. A friend who accompanied me to the opening-night performance of a new play entitled With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi wasn’t quite two years old in March of 1982, when the hard-partying performer died of an accidental drug overdose in a Hollywood hotel room. But while she wasn’t even born yet when John Belushi broke comedic ground during the first incarnation of Saturday Night Live, and probably didn’t see Animal House until it had been in the can for 20 years, my friend has a conversational knowledge of all his best bits. That’s what it means to be a legend.
The story behind The Rise and Fall of John Belushi is seriously overdue for a stage or screen adaptation, and playwright/actor Jack Zullo — who fully embodies Belushi’s manic energy and uncompromising spirit in the title role — admits that it’s been over thirteen years since he was first inspired to work on John Belushi as a character study, and immersed himself in the comedian’s material. What started out as a spec feature film script evolved into this current stage production of With A Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi, which was previously honed through multiple West Coast performances. With a goal of finding a place in the NYC theater scene, Zullo aspires to reverse-engineer the play back into a feature-length script to tell the story of John’s life in narrative form; something that has been attempted by many, but not successfully executed.
With a Little Help opens quietly on a scene in the bungalow at the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi spent his final moments of life, having just fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and cocaine. As he collapses on a mattress and takes his last breath, a chorus of disembodied voices ring out in the theater, admonishing the reckless thirty-three-year-old for being such a “dumb sonofabitch.” But the tragic tone quickly segues into a high-energy flashback of John, accompanied by his girlfriend Judy and best friend Steve, on a night in 1967 when he attended his first comedy show at Chicago’s The Second City club. John is visibly bursting with creative inspiration as he declares that he has found his life’s calling and intends to pursue a career in comedy.
From there, we follow John Belushi’s rise to prominence as an iconic American entertainer; working his way up from an indie college performer in 1968, to Manhattan in the mid-1970s, where he was part of the infamous National Lampoon Magazine and its Radio Hour, all the way through his four-year stint as one of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live.
The story of Belushi’s quick ascent to pop culture success shines the spotlight on his struggles to maintain control on the excesses afforded a budding star, counterbalanced with his desire to always be ahead of the curve by keeping the work fresh and exciting, and setting trends rather than following them. With a Little Help effectively revisits a time in American TV when the field of comedy was a Wild West for creative invention. John Belushi’s career was a wild ride while it lasted, but it’s not like we don’t already know how the journey ends.
With a Little Help takes its title from the now-legendary Saturday Night Live skit in which Belushi gives an over-the-top impersonation of British singer Joe Cocker’s eccentrically-mannered performance of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” This skit is recreated in the play, as are musical numbers made famous by The Blues Brothers — Belushi’s band with Dan Aykroyd. The production features the terrific Crazy Tomes Band, who provide a live soundtrack, accompanying the many musical numbers in the show, and playing a set of covers before the play starts.
In addition to the great live music, With a Little Help truly becomes a multi-media production, as it incorporates both newly-produced and archival film and video clips, which further the action in ways that would otherwise be impossible, such as when John and friends experience an LSD trip, or when SNL cast members indulge in drug binges that history tells us were common on that set.
The play’s supporting cast of characters includes John Belushi’s devoted wife Judy Jacklin (Jennifer Lieberman, who also appears as Gilda Radner), as well as a who’s who of the comedian ‘friends’ who supported, collaborated with, and cajoled Belushi on his path to fame, such as the National Lampoon’s Tony Hendra (Len Rella), Christopher Guest (Benjamin Batchelder), Brian Murray (Artie Brennan, who also play’s Belushi’s close friend Steve Beshekas), Joe Flaherty (Nicolas Dipierro, who also appears as Lorne Michaels) and Dan Aykroyd, portrayed brilliantly by Keith Saltojanes. All the actors are excellent in their handling of multiple roles, but Jack Zullo as Belushi is so spot-on in his timing and physical comedy, I forgot multiple times that I was watching an actor and not Belushi himself.
John Belushi did not get to live a long life. It’s tragic that his comedic legacy also includes the bleak Hollywood cliche of self-destructive behavior, but With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is less a cautionary tale and more a celebration of and homage to a phenomenally talented individual whose body of work has been, and will continue to be, endlessly influential. Funny, smart, and deeply nostalgia-inducing, With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is a story whose time is now.
Directed by Levy Lee Simon With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi runs through December 22nd only at Theatre 80, located at 80 St. Marks Place, in NYC’s East Village. Tickets are super affordable at just $30 — $40 and are available via With a Little Help Show Dot Com. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 7 PM and 10 PM, and Sunday Matinees at 3 PM. A portion of ticket sales from the Theatre 80 run will be donated to The Comedians Assistance Fund and Gilda’s Club charities.
Watch The Trailer Below:
Do you like drinking? I sure do. If you enjoy drinking and you also like going to the theater, maybe you have wished that there was a play where the actors brought cocktails right to your seat for you to enjoy during the show. That would be insane, right? What a great idea! Well, what if I told you that this is not just a beautiful, utopian dream, but that it is already happening right now? Yes, it is true, and this magical event happens at New World Stages in midtown. The show is called The Imbible: a Spirited History of Drinking, and the cherry on the cake is that it all takes place in a bar!
When you arrive at the theater, head down stairs, veer off to the left, and you will be escorted to your seat in the Green Room lounge. Water and a free bowl of fresh popcorn will be brought to your table for you to snack on while you wait for the show to begin. The Imbible was created by world-renowned mixologist Anthony Caporale, who looks a little bit like actor Joe Manganello, whose photo I have just hyperlinked, for your reference.
Full Disclosure: If you are an avid fan of Worleygig.com, you are aware that Geoffrey Dicker is my BFF/Partner In Crime, and that we have experienced many, many crazyfun adventures together; most of which are documented with photographic evidence right on this very blog! So, you already know that Geoffrey is one rad dude whose devil-may-care attitude carries over into every facet of his ass-kick in his life. Good for him, I say! Good for everybody!
With that introduction, it is my pleasure to announce the publication of Journal of Grievances, Geoffrey’s latest book and first novel! Warning: this book is recommended for immature audiences only, as it is riddled with ridiculous amounts of adult language and thoroughly twisted situations. Journal of Grievances is a ‘raw and uncensored’ look into the controversial ups and downs (both in and out of the bedroom) of a struggling, single gay male writer living in New York City!
Told through daily journal entries in a year-long approach to turning The Big Four-Oh, the Journal’s protagonist spills his guts with hilarious observations as he waxes philosophically: analyzing his raunchy sex life, drug addictions, debauched relationships, life encounters, and his frustrations with society. With razor-sharp prosaic hooks and brutal honesty, our narrator navigates through relationship drama and job-loss as he struggles to find his place in the world. Or maybe not.
Geoffrey suggests that if you are easily offended by profanity or graphic depictions of gay sex, please do not buy this book. Alternately, he advises the reader to flip to any page and promises that within 2 sentences, he or she will be laughing. “I’d like to think of this book as a gay loner version of Sex and the City meets Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Catcher in the Rye — in other words, it’s completely fucked up!” Journal of Grievances is an unconventional coming-of-age story with no filters and absolutely zero fucks given! The supporting characters in the story remain nameless, because what matters is how their words and actions affect our anti-hero. “Despite the story containing generous helpings of extreme gay sex,” Dicker continues, “I think the anyone – straight or gay – will be able to relate to the situations and moral dilemmas in which the main character often finds himself.”
“I’ve read so many books that never teach me anything new, make me think differently, or, at the very least, make me smile, Dicker continues. Journal of Grievances will bring each of these experiences to the reader, hopefully repeatedly. There are 11 months of daily journal entries, and one month’s entries made up of random ideas; including a short story told almost exclusively via use of the F-word.” Ant any rate, he promises, “You’ll never be the same again, after reading Journal of Grievances!”
Journal of Grievances is Released Today, September 20th, 2016, and is Available to Purchase From Amazon at This Link!
I spotted this Mr. Squid packaged squid snack at an anonymous bodega on Mosco Street in Chinatown a few weeks back. I did not actually eat any Mr. Squid, but there is what I would consider to be a semi-enthusiastic positive review at This Link.
For Beatles fans who crave an authentic performance experience of the group’s expansive catalog of music, there is certainly no shortage of grand scale productions, which range from Rain and Let it Be on Broadway to 1964 The Tribute – an act that regularly sells out Carnegie Hall. But for fans who maintain a keen interest in the life and post-Beatles career of John Lennon specifically, Lennon: Through a Glass Onion offers something completely different.
Now in evening and matinee performances at the Union Square Theater, Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, is an intimate, two-man show featuring esteemed actor and singer John R. Waters and accompanist Stewart D’Arrietta, which originally saw sell-out tours in the duo’s native Australia. While there are no dazzling lights, clever sets, informative backdrops or special effects to bolster this very stripped down production, what you get is a heartfelt acoustic performance (guitar and piano – and D’Arrietta’s piano playing is quite excellent) of a selection of over thirty of John Lennon’s best and most autobiographical songs – both written with Paul McCartney while in The Beatles, and written and recorded by Lennon as a solo artist.
Tying the musical numbers together is Water’s biographical narrative of John Lennon’s often traumatic youth and tumultuous adulthood, the ups and down of which are punctuated and fleshed out by songs he wrote at that time. Although Water’s speaking voice is appealingly similar to Lennon’s, his (often quite gravelly) singing voice is not, so don’t expect the “close your eyes and imagine it is really him” effect that you can get with so many tributes. Through a Glass Onion is really more like watching two hardcore John Lennon fans perform his songs and talk about his life in a pub setting. This may or may not be your thing, so just know what you are walking into ahead of time.
In order to fit thirty songs into a 90-minute run time, many of the songs are performed as excerpts of various lengths, but you get the idea. Likewise, some liberty is taken with traditional arrangements, which finds “Help!” – one of The Beatles‘ most exhilarating anthems – performed almost as a dirge. Sometimes the alternative arrangements work and other times not so much.
It’s also unclear how much of the biographical information is simply improvised or creatively extrapolated based on various facts but, again, it is easy to imagine that Waters is speaking as Lennon and the story all comes together. As an aside, fans seeking more information about John Lennon’s life as a child and teenager, including the not-very-happy story about his relationship with his mother Julia – which had such a profound influence on so many of his songs — might be better served by the 2009 film, Nowhere Boy. You can find it on Netflix.
An added note about the venue, for those who’ve not yet been to the Union Square Theater, is that you are in for treat in this pristinely maintained, old school theater where every very comfy seat offers optimal viewing, so you don’t have to stretch your ticket buying budget to get the best seat in the house. The theater is also conveniently located three blocks uptown from the Union Square subway hub and is within blocks of dozens of excellent restaurants — so you can plan a night of it!
Lennon: Through a Glass Onion will run through February 22nd, 2015 at the Union Square Theater, located at 100 East 17th Street (Between Park Ave South and Irving Place), New York, NY 10003. Visit Lennon Onstage Dot Com for more information about the show, to get show times and to purchase tickets!