If you’re reading this, it’s a Sunday morning, and probably not the time you’re thinking about seeing a comedy show. Unless you have kids. And then you may want to hear about a limited-time production called The Wizard’s Lounge, which offers performances today and next Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the UCB Theatre in New York.
Billed as "part PeeWee’s Playhouse and part Harry Potter," the hourlong show built for small children is the work of comedians/animators Matt Hall and Patrick Borelli, with wizards, knights, odd guests, riddles, magic orbs and more. They’re helped by a cast of comedians that you’d normally see producing comedy for adults and adults who feel more like kids on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning, including Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate, Jon Benjamin, Jon Glaser, Larry Murphy and Leo Allen. But there they were last Sunday, performing for an audience at the UCB that consisted almost entirely of small children (ages ranged from toddlers to around 8) and their parents. Last week, Gelman helped open the show and warm up the kids as Samuel Squire. Hall hosted as Dr. Carl Manteesean, Wizard’s Order 3rd Class. His sidekicks included Prince Mando, who, turned into a raven, was played by the voice of Glaser, and Wrangleswift the Sleepy Knight, played by Borelli. The knight is on hand to protect the show from getting taken over by the bad, evil wizard (played last week by Allen), except his sleeping fits meant he’d need the kids to wake him up early and often. Over the course of the show, Hall used animated displays to lead the children through a series of riddles and games that alternated between silly and slightly educational. The show also would see several drop-in guests, including Lady Flufferton (Slate) to play a version of the memory game, and the Rollin’ Yogi (Benjamin) to display his "magic" talents of perception.
With kids in the audience, you always/never know quite what to expect (and I know this all too well from a year I spent working as a professional clown at birthday parties and company picnics in Seattle back in 1997). Last week, the performers realized they had to watch their language even more than simply avoiding profanity when one of the children in the audience blurted out in reply: "Stupid is a bad word!" There were giggles all around. Also the kids really latched onto Glaser’s raven and his sales pitch for his potential nightclub, "The Bird’s Nest," and somehow picked up on it themselves as a natural callback throughout last week’s show. The kids loved Buzz the bee’s song last week, yet hated it the week before. And the kids did manage to hold off throwing their magic orbs until properly cued, at which point Allen’s evil wizard hat made for a surprisingly easy target. All in all, the show did offer laughs for both children and adults alike. It still felt like a work in progress, though, as I mentioned earlier, most of these performers are probably more used to dealing with subversive college-age crowds than innocent and attention-starved children. They told me afterward that if all goes well this week and next, they may decide to mount the show again later this year. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops as both the performers and the audience get more and more accustomed to the framework of the show.