“The Bicycle Men”
Written by Dave Lewman, Joe Liss, Mark Nutter and John Rubano
Music and lyrics by Mark Nutter
Steve – Dan Castellaneta
Offal, Paul Laubeignet, Guy Tumal, Puppet Servant, Lenny Starr, Rem Van Opdorp, Puppet Steve, Rene Dupar, Port Gibson – Joe Liss
Henri, Marcel the Puppetmaster, Guillaume the Cabaret MC – Mark Nutter
L’homme du bicyclette, Robert Vache, Rich Puppet, Maurice Soucetet, Johnny Dipentino, Austin Houston, Puppet Offal, Chester Manchester, Puppet Austin – John Rubano
Mark Nutter – Music Director / Keyboards
Mark Jenkyns and Emma Douglas – Producers
Louie Whitemore – Set Designer
David Duffy – Lighting Designer
Scott Sandoe – Choreographer
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 17 November, 2007
Venue: The King’s Head, Islington, London
The four performers in “The Bicycle Men” first met as stand-up comics in Chicago. The show came out of “Le Comedie du Bicyclette” which premiered in Los Angeles in 2003. It later became “The Bicycle Men” and was a sell-out in Chicago. In 2004 they recorded an album of the show’s songs. It played the New York International Fringe Festival and two years ago hit Edinburgh. This is its London premiere. As a show there’s not much to it and, strictly speaking, it’s not a musical but just a comedy with songs. However, it is so appealing in its own daft way, and has such endearing performances by its four leading men, that it is easy to forgive “The Bicycle Men” for just being a shambolic piece of comedy shtick.
It tells of Steve, an American, (presumably) who is on a bicycling holiday in France where he has an accident and has to stay in a French village where all the occupants seem to be weird or actually insane or have escaped from the wilder excesses of a Franz Kafka story. If you can imagine a cross between Will Hay and The League of Gentlemen, you just about have it. However, the abiding influence on the humour here is The Marx Brothers, leavened with a dash of “Hellzapoppin”. There’s a kind of madcap zanyness that runs through the piece where everybody is the stuff of nightmares. While awaiting the repair of his bicycle, Steve is forced to stay at a hostel where in the next bunk is a Dutchman who can only get to sleep if he sings a Japanese folksong as a lullaby. We are dealing here with stereotypes where the French come out very badly indeed although the results are hilarious.
Steve is played by Dan Castellaneta who provides the voice of Homer Simpson in the TV series. His is the voice of reason and, like the other members of the cast, has great physical dexterity with his body language. Joe Liss plays most of the crazy characters with a sort of Marceau/Tati presence, while John Rubano contributes a gallery of weirdoes including a strange cabaret performer with a fixed rictus grin when Steve is persuaded to enter the cabaret competition – don’t ask why. Mark Nutter (good name) provides the music and lyrics mostly from his keyboard and many of the songs are quite inspired, including one about fake breasts, a love-song translated with a Spanish dictionary, an after-life lullaby that says “when you go, you go”, and, best of all, a production number called ‘I’m in a musical but I’m hetero’ which could probably easily grace the next edition of “Forbidden Broadway” to advantage.
Some of the humour is crude (the dog excrement taster and the fake-breasts scene, for instance) which may have puzzled some of the kids in the audience, but on the whole the packed matinee house simply adored the show. It’s the stuff that cults are made of.
- The Bicycle Men is at King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street, London N1 until December 2: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m., matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3.30 p.m.
- Tickets on 020 7226 1916