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A CurtainUp Review

Whoopi: The 20th Anniversary Show
There is no fourth wall here. I'm talking to you. I'm really talking to you.

Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg (Photo: Joan Marcus)
I'd like to send forth a big whoop for Whoopi Goldberg's 20th Anniversary Show. Goldberg, or Whoopi as most of us have come to know her, is a personable comedienne. Her impish, wide as the Hudson River smile is infectious and, despite the over-reliance on expletives, she's a smart woman.

Unfortunately, her return to the scene of her first success is pretty much a been there, done that retread. To be sure, some of her characterizations have touches of comic brilliance; but they were overworked and overly long twenty years ago and are disastrously so now. What was forgivable in a new, young performer, now simply screams out for the director Whoopi has completely dispensed with this time around. (The original director, an indulgent Mike Nichols, now just lends his name in giant letters to the top of the producers' list).

Her popular and most foul-mouthed character, Fontaine, gets things going with a fairly funny riff on George W. Bush's rise to power and a second term. When Fontaine goes to the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, things quickly deteriorate into a tedious and feeble attempt to add a serious undertone to what is basically an irreverent stand-up routine.

The entire show, which runs at least fifteen minutes over the announced 90-minutes, keeps Whoopi under cover of her fictional creations. The only time she's really herself is at the very end when she explains why role models like Ophra made her retire the character of an African-American child yearning for long, blonde hair. But no sooner does she declare that character to be irrelevant, than she proceeds to reprise that character after all as a "mint for your pillow."

When the Fontaine segment ends, four other characters follow. The show reaches a particularly low ebb when a newcomer named Lurleen goes into a lengthy discourse on women's body issues, with an especially dated segment that might be subtitled from Kotex to Hot Flashes.

Lurleen's ruminations on painful body waxing and botox injections made me wonder if Whoopi and Eve Ensler, who's also holding forth in a theater nearby (The Good Body>), have been pow-wowing at Starbucks to trade ideas about the female condition. To cut down on the solo show overflow, it might improve both Eve's and Whoopi's offerings if they joined forces on one stage. In case someone's listening, I'd suggest that Whoopi leave the bare bones set at the Lyceum -- along with that spotlight that makes half the people in the audience feel as if they're being grilled in some police holding room -- and head for Ensler's brighter and more theatrical home at the Booth.

As it now stands, Whoopi: The 20th Anniversary, is for Whoopi's most devoted fans only. In all fairness, I should add there seem to be plenty of them. Those at the performance I attended greeted her every utterance and every measured strut with ecstatic yaks.

Whoopi: The 20th Anniversary Show
Written and Performed by Whoopi Goldberg
Lighting Design: Benjamin Pearcy.
Sound design by
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald
Running time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.
Theatre: Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street (Broadway/6th Avenue) 212/239-6200
From 11/06/05 to 1/30/05; opening 11/17/04.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 7 PM and 10 PM, Sunday at 3 PM and 7 PM
Ticket price: Orchestra $76.25, Mezzanine $76.25 and $66.25, Balcony $46.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 19th press performance
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