The socially narrow misadventures of New Yorkers Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kessler began airing on broadcast television (that used to be a big thing, kiddies) at the tail end of the 1980’s. Dubbed The Seinfeld Chronicles, the “show about nothing” took time to grow into its full meaninglessness, while some other changes came quicker. Besides rechristening Jerry’s “hipster doofus” neighbor from Kessler to Kramer and rounding out the main cast with the invaluable Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine, the program’s title, of course, was also shortened to just the surname of its non-fictional protagonist, Jerry Seinfeld, a stand-up comic whose misanthropic observational humor, along with co-series creator Larry David’s own dyspeptic take on humanity, spun solipsism into gold. As an enviable example, a few years ago, Netflix reportedly bought the streaming rights to the entire run of Seinfeld for more than half a billion dollars.
Given their unapologetic arrested development, the show’s four central characters certainly would not object to our current unhealthy appetite for cultural nostalgia. Television Jerry, in particular, lives in an adolescent bubble, which includes Superman comics and sugary cereals. He also cannot value romantic partners beyond his own needs, a self-obsession that spawns the most biting joke in Singfeld! A Musical Parody About Nothing!, as our now tuneful Jerry (Landon Zwick) totes around a blow-up doll whose disposition and functionality more or less represent his ideal woman. That problematic attitude also informs the show’s best song, a take-off of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man that lyricists Bob and Tobly McSmith assert is a number that only slightly eclipses how many women Jerry ran through on Seinfeld.
Whether a late legalistic addition or simply an editing error, the word “unauthorized” appears as part of the musical’s subtitle in its online program. Everyone involved in the production of Seinfeld, however, can rest assured that the McSmiths, who also wrote the book for Singfeld!, and composer Billy Recce are mostly ardent purveyors of fan service, with only a few breezy acknolwdgements of the show’s racism, sexism, homophobia, and incessant body-shaming. Such criticism probably will only surprise audience members dragged to The Jerry Orbach Theater by their parents or grandparents (do millennials and Gen-Zers watch Law & Order?). There is also a brief mention of the infamous post-Seinfeld incident that upended the career of Michael Richards, who portrayed Kramer.
Picking the easiest possible creative path, a decision the effort-averse George would no doubt admire, the McSmiths forgo imaginative risk-taking in favor of simply copying their source material, shaping Singfeld! as a parody musical about writing a parody musical. In other words, Singfeld! is also about nothing, which makes the entire endeavor feel, at times, akin to a Sartrean spiral or, as Jerry’s archnemesis Newman (Jacob Millman) more bluntly puts it, “hackey.” That’s not to say there aren’t some funny moments during Singfeld!, but when humor is largely based on “remember when?,” the comedic ceiling is right above your head.
Still, if all you want is to laugh at what you’ve laughed at before, then the McSmiths have you covered with out-of-context Seinfeld references galore: “sponge-worthy”; “yada yada yada”; “master of my domain.” There are also a few slight modifications to the Seinfeld canon, perhaps owing either to worries about copyright infringement or a headscratching attempt at cleverness: puffy shirt becomes “poofy shirt”; Festivus is now “Schmestivus”; and the McSmiths change the name of Elaine’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Puddy to “Pudding.” Anyone who finds the aforementioned lists as impenetrable as reading Ulysses should probably avoid Singfeld! as if it were the vengeful doorman who hilariously tormented Jerry during a sixth-season episode.
Although Larry Miller memorably embodied the role (for any interested millennials and Gen-Zers, Miller was also malevolently great as a guest star opposite Jerry Orbach on Law & Order), somehow his rage-filled working stiff didn’t make the cut for Singfeld!, a lost opportunity if ever there was one. But, to be fair, the energetic ensemble does cycle through many other beloved characters, with lots of help from their obvious youth and Karine Ivey’s amusing collection of chintzy wigs. Admittedly, Singfeld! has oodles of schlocky charm, with director Marc David Wright’s use of a pigeon chorus being the pinnacle. As for the very low-grade set, one occasionally worries it won’t withstand Jordan Ryder’s bouncy choreography, but I guess that’s part of the excitement of live theater.
Like his Seinfeld counterpart, musical-parody Jerry is a ho-hum star desperately in need of the more fascinating personalities orbiting him, particularly his, for whatever it might mean, close friends: George (Millman), Elaine (Jenna Comey), and Kramer (Matthew Ruehlman). With the exception of Zwick who does a decent caricature of the putative lead, each actor mimics multiple Seinfeld regulars with more commitment than you’ll get at Broadway prices. I suppose that makes Mike Kizner, who assumes the yeoman’s responsibilities of impersonating Frank Costanza, J. Peterman, and other recurring characters, not only the discount Jefferson Mays of Singfeld! but a pretty good bargain, too. Here’s hoping his fearless talents eventually receive what they’re worth.
Singfeld! A Musical Parody About Nothing! (open run)
The Jerry Orbach Theater at The Theater Center, 210 West 50th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-921-7862 or visit http://www.singfeld.com
Running time: one hour and 20 minutes without an intermission