What does it take to mildly charm a Tuesday-night finals week crowd of senior citizens and little kids? Whatever oxymoronic act that Aleksey Igudesman and Richard Hyung-Ki Joo brought to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC) stage, apparently. The show, which was at the same time both a jumbled series of cheap gags and a well-rehearsed orchestral accomplishment, somehow managed to check just the right boxes for an evening of mostly-mindless laughter and brief moments of genuine wonder. Whether it was at all “good” depended on how much one thought about it.
I must have been just a little too pensive. But Igudesman and Joo’s less-than-perfect fate in my own mind was mostly a product of circumstance. The last time that beautiful Steinway graced the stage for a musical comedy act, it was manhandled by the supremely talented and politically incorrect Tim Minchin, who played and told jokes with all the professionalism of a drunkard at a dinner party. By comparison, Igudesman and Joo seemed stiff and scripted, as if they had done the same thing a hundred times before. Of course, they have done the same thing a hundred times before, which is totally fine. Ideally, though, the audience wouldn’t be able to tell.
That is not to say the duo was not well-rehearsed and well-scripted. They had a legitimately funny catalogue of wisecracks and wide-eyed facial expressions, reminiscent of a good bar-mitzvah DJ, that kept their few hundred patrons smiling for the duration in an unoffended sort of way. No topic was all that new or surprising — think bald jokes and a malfunctioning navigation system — but then again neither is classical music. Ironically, one of the most original punchlines was the final one, which explained that Igudesman and Joo use classical music in their show just because it’s free from licensing fees.
Okay, so Igudesman and Joo are not natural-born comedians. Luckily, they are at least very gifted classical musicians. Joo is a virtual master on the piano, and to prove it (and also to prove his sobriety) he was conducted by Igudesman (who donned a police outfit for the occasion) through a ridiculous medley of challenging pieces by many of the most famous composers in history. Similarly, Igudesman is a violin virtuoso, a fact evident every time he maintained perfect tempo despite Joo’s endless physical and vocal harassments. What talent it must take to play Bach while being assaulted by multiple prop wigs, giant scissors and a real hairdryer all in one song.
The classical expertise was undoubtedly impressive, and was worthy of its own show even without the ancillary attempts at humor. Perhaps a show focused more intently on the music would have been less disorganized and confusing. Igudesman and Joo shone during their playful meldings of classical and modern songs. More of that would keep those who tend to overthink things from losing interest. “I Will Survive” performed in highbrow operatic style was easily as funny as any of the slapstick gags that came before it.
The world needs more musical comedy; there is no staged form of entertainment more enjoyable to people who appreciate wit and talent. Sometimes senselessness is the genre’s best form, so long as it is grounded in music. Igudesman and Joo came close to nailing their duet, but in the end their scripted humor revealed that they were the ones who had done too much thinking.