Viva la history lesson of OCT's 'The Big Bang'

In the beginning was the Big Bang. Zillions of years later came the Garden of Eden, with free food, rascal snakes and frontal nudity. And Adam and Eve vamping it up with lyrics like, "You should listen to Satan "… it's a Granny Smith!"

The deal with "The Big Bang" — the two-man musical, not the cosmic event that started the universe — is that while wealthy Dr. and Mrs. Lipbalm are out of town, song dudes Jed and Boyd, who are apartment-sitting the Lipbalms' sumptuous Manhattan digs, have invited us over for a "backers' audition" of their new show, "The Big Bang," which they want to bring to Broadway.

If you go

What: "The Big Bang"

  • Where: Oregon Cabaret Theatre, First and Hargadine streets, Ashland.
  • When: Runs through May 27. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays and 1 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $36 for Fridays and Saturdays, $30 for the matinees, $26 for Sundays, $32 for weeknights and $18 for bistro seating.
  • For tickets: Visit the box office, see or call 541-488-2902.

They're hitting us up for the dough to produce a 12-hour show that covers all human history and makes "Phantom of the Opera" look minimalist: 300-plus actors, 6,000-plus costumes, not counting prosthetic devices, and an $83 million budget.

But any show that pairs a kvetching Virgin Mary with Mohandas Gandhi's mother in the first act and has the former singing "After loaves and fishes/guess who did the dishes" gets my vote, if not cash, every time.

Boyd (Chris Carwithen) and Jed (Gregg Land) are fussing about in the Lipbalms' home (Kerri Lea Robbins' richly textured stage) as we enter, wondering how they'll put on the show without a set or costumes.

They enter the audience and pass out little pledge cards to prospective backers (us), and even appear to take the coats and bags of alleged late arrivals to the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, which they'll later plunder for props. It's not an original bit, but it's neatly done and funny as always.

Then we're off and running into Boyd Graham's (book and lyrics) and Jed Feuer's (music) musical mini-tour of world history, which owes less to Herodotus and Carlyle than to Monty Python and Mel Brooks.

In ancient Egypt, the boys are Hebrew slaves with Yiddish accents ("We're building Pharaoh a pyramid "… "), and Nefertiti wears an upside-down lampshade and disses Cleopatra.

In ancient Rome, Land is a coliseum lion prepping for the 2 o'clock show with the Christians (he always wins). The lights go out in the dark ages but come up again as we see Christopher Columbus hustling Queen Isabella, an aging man-eater who talks like that gay Hispanic street tough who took Elaine's armoire from Kramer on "Seinfeld," for the money to discover a New World. His naming suggestion? The United States of Isabella.

Since all this is purportedly being improvised for our benefit, the boys careen around the Lipbalms' apartment grabbing drapes, lampshades and other items they quickly and ingeniously convert to costumes. A cushion from a couch becomes that weird hat Columbus is always pictured wearing, and so on.

At intermission the boys go into the audience to bus tables. The dishes in turn become props in a number dubbed "Cookin' for Henry," in which Carwithen and Land are scullery maids singing about the girth and appetite of a certain Tudor monarch. Playing rhythm on a whisk and a flour sifter (OK, some of the bussed items were plants), they salute the king's "noblesse obese."

As Minnehaha and Pocahontas, who declare "without reservations" that they're on the prowl for men, the guys hit the Algonquin Hotel bar, natch. Their drink? Manhattans. Then they become American Indian braves wearing breech cloths that, in the guys' endless quest for corporate sponsorship, say YOUR AD HERE.

We meet Paddy Au Gratin, an Irish potato famine victim trying to decide how to cook his last spud, which looks suspiciously like Mr. Potato Head. An abashed Eva Braun singing a torch song about Hitler (she used to think his first name was "heil," she's a girl who can't say "nein"). A reprise performed as the guys are putting the apartment back together cleverly comprises all the three-letter abbreviations you've ever heard. Turns out there are verses and verses worth. Who knew?

This quick-fire madness was energetically directed by Kymberli Colbourne, who also collaborated with Jim Giancarlo on the choreography. Despite the frenetic pace and the tongue-twisting lyrics, opening night went off like a mid-run show.

Part Broadway send-up, part Borscht-Belt salute and part metaphorical digit defiantly flashed at political correctness, "The Big Bang" is a triumph for Land and Carwithen. It should be declared a disaster area for those who believe too much laughter is a dangerous thing.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at

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