Wednesday, January 21, 2015

5 Songs

Jack Gallagher is the busiest Renaissance man whom you may never have heard of.

This three-time Emmy Award-winning playwright and comedian has played every comedy club in America (or so it seems from his bio), was a regular at The Improv in Los Angeles, appeared in movies, co-hosts the popular nationally syndicated public television show, “Money Track,” starred in his own sitcom (“Bringing up Jack”) and had a recurring role on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
He’s been on a number of talk/variety shows, including “The Tonight Show” (with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno) and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” He was even the host of the California Lottery’s “Big Spin” from 1996 to 1998.

Yet, all I knew of him was that he was the friendly guy in the old Crystal ice cream commercials.

Gallagher’s new show, “5 Songs,” is the fifth show commissioned by the B Street Theatre, where it opened this past weekend and will run for the next six weeks. It is outstanding.

The central theme is the music of our lives, how sometimes it only takes a few notes of an old song to transport us back to another time and place, with memories that may be pleasant or may be unpleasant, but you can’t escape the story that accompanies that particular song.

The walls of the B Street Main Stage theater, by scenic designer Meg McGuigan, are lined with titles of songs that have special meaning to Gallagher. The audience is given a choice of four from a list of seven or eight. Each of the four sections of the audience selects a song, Gallagher selects the fifth, the rest are removed and the show is on.

Your show may be quite different from mine, as it will change every night, depending on the songs chosen.
With the accompaniment of Tommy Dunbar on guitar, Gallagher begins to reminisce about his memories connected to each particular song. The first song opening night, for example, was Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man,” which evoked a visceral reaction and then led to a lengthy description of what it is like to be the opening man for such names as Snow, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon and Tony Bennett, among many others, living life on the road and being the guy nobody wanted to see because everyone was there for the headliner. Some experiences were very bad; some were not so bad (and Bennett, apparently, was the best).

Gallagher has an easy delivery that makes the audience feel as if they were sitting in his living room listening to this delightful man tell them stories from his past.

The most poignant of the songs discussed was “Danny Boy,” which brought up stories of his complicated childhood, his relationship with his parents and how their idiosyncracies shaped his life and turned him into the parent he has become to his two now-adult children. It a beautiful piece and anyone who shares some of the experiences he describes will be moved to tears.

Junior Walker’s “What Does It Take?” opened the door to Gallagher’s memories of his first job, working 13 hours a day in an ice warehouse at age 15, and of developing a work ethic that has followed him the rest of his life.

This is a two-act show, the second act being much shorter than the first, but the time flies by and when it ends, you wish you’d had a chance to hear what he had to say about the songs that did not get selected.
It was a delightful evening spent with a likable guy, who makes doing something very difficult look very easy.
But I missed the ice cream.

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