What do the Broadway musicals Footloose, The Goodbye Girl and Urinetown all have in common? Why, Rick Crom, of course. A talented and accomplished actor and singer, New York theatregoers will also recognize him from his off-Broadway appearances in the celebrated revival of Merrily, We Roll Along at the York Theatre, Das Barbecu at the Minetta Lane and the City Center Encores productions of Li’l Abner and Fiorello!
But wait, there’s more. A standup comedy veteran who has performed with Chicago City Limits and has appeared regularly at NYC’s The Comedy Cellar in the West Village for many years, Mr. Crom also channels his talent for laughter into writing music and lyrics for shows and revues. His long-running show, NEWSical, the Musical, is now in its third or fourth iteration since first opening in 2004, currently playing an open-ended run at the Kirk at Theatre Row. A two-time Drama Desk nominee for lyric writing, Mr. Crom has also provided the score (and co-wrote lyrics with Fred M. Caruso) for the film The Big Gay Musical, as well as off-Broadway productions of Space Trek, the Star Trek spoof by Mark Lipitz, and Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale, with a book by his Urinetown co-star Hunter Foster, which won Best Music and Most Promising Musical awards at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
This past Tuesday night Rick Crom took to the stage at the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground to celebrate his recent 60th birthday with The First 60 Years In Revue, a variety-show evening of musical numbers from his many shows over the years. The room was packed with friends and fans, and he was joined onstage by the always amazing Christina Bianco, along with a top-drawer ensemble: Rachel Coloff, Jim David, Olivia Vessel, Walker Vreeland, Alena Watters, and Colin Weiss, with special guest Jason Scoop. The excellent musical director Ed Goldschneider was at the piano, with Brady Cudmore on drums.
Mr. Crom has long had a knack for taking the headlines of the day and making comedic fodder out of them by putting them to song; his show, NEWSical constantly updates its material to respond to recent developments in the news. The fresher the topic, the better the song. This inherent dynamic can make the older material seem tamer; it is built into the genre of topical comedy. How funny would a Watergate joke be today? I can remember, years ago at the Comedy Cellar, Mr. Crom bringing down the house at the end of his set with a song about the O.J. Simpson trial. He had managed to cram everything that happened during the trial into that song, and by the end of it, the audience was laughing so hard they were rolling around on the floor on their backs, with their legs up in the air, no lie. It just couldn’t be that funny today. But still, the older numbers in The First 60 Years In Revue hold up extremely well, to judge from the nearly non-stop laughter on Tuesday night. In fact, the musical and comedic highpoint of the evening was inspired by a ten year-old headline, and was preceded by an audio-visual presentation of Alec Baldwin’s 2007 recorded voice-mail rant at his then 11-year old daughter, Ireland. Mr. Crom has written a gorgeous ballad for the occasion, which he sang beautifully (think Broadway baritone, people, this 60 year-old boy has some mad chops) as a tender lullaby to his little, sleeping, dirtbag daughter. It killed. I was completely convulsed through the whole thing, along with the rest of the audience, and remember thinking, “I haven’t laughed this hard in years.” Now that I think of it, the last time I laughed that hard was probably while I was watching Rick Crom stand behind the microphone.
As a look back at Rick Crom’s long and productive career in making people laugh, The First 60 Years In Revue was an over-the-top success, and as for whatever comes for Rick Crom in the next sixty years, I am supremely confident it is going to be just flat-out funny.