Tony Braithwaite is committed to Johnny Carson. Younger talk-show hosts may come and go - and by younger, I mean anyone post-Letterman, including Letterman - but in
Laughing All the Way
, his family-friendly variety show at Act II Playhouse, Braithwaite once again pays homage to his hero with a variety show that even includes a segment featuring Carnac the Magnificent.
If you're too young to remember Carnac (Carson in a turban), a medium who divined jokey answers to a series of questions presented to him in sealed envelopes, you probably also won't recall Art Linkletter or Bill Cosby's Kids Say the Darndest Things. No matter. All you really need to know is that Act II held a letter-to-Santa writing competition wherein kids described their perfect holiday gift.
The winners were chosen to appear onstage, and on opening night an eighth grader recalled the afternoon when her brother, in an effort to get his mom out of Bed Bath & Beyond, sniffed some perfume, dropped the bottle, and faked a seizure in the middle of the store. She requested that Santa track down video of the event.
Your letter-writer will differ, as will the young talent set to perform throughout the show's run. Opening-night visitors included a parrot, a tortoise, and a dove from the Philadelphia Zoo, alongside a "Helf," head writer Will Dennis as a helper elf who hit the North Pole as part of the Occupy Toyland movement and left with seasonal employment.
If it all sounds a bit corny, well, it is. When he's not performing scripted theater, Braithwaite's stock-in-trade is the unself-consciously - nay, defiantly - passé. This is Braithwaite's fourth original production at the theater, and each has included his Rich Little-style impersonations. Here, we get Kermit the Frog, and, of course, Carson.
Still, this cast, with assists from Act II managing director Howie Brown as "Sidekick," and pianist Sonny Leo (whose old-school qualifications include a childhood stint on Al Alberts' Showcase; you may not remember that one, either), brings high energy to its tunes, and Braithwaite's split-second wit and improv skills provide all the edge it needs, which isn't much.
Clocking in at an amiable 70 minutes, its skits, special guests, and audience participation (the "variety" in a variety show is helpful like that) remain light and easy throughout, encouraging its audience to get cozy and let down its guard. In a holiday season that brought us pepper-spraying competitive shoppers, that's certainly a worthwhile goal.
Laughing All the Way
Through Dec. 31 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler. Tickets: $27-$33. Information: 215-654-1011 or www.act2.org.