Despite her grubby habits at music festivals, PopWatchers, your Aunt Whittlz does take the occasional occasion to don a party dress, and this past Monday night she found a better excuse than usual: the Mad Men revue at the El Rey Theatre in L.A., where the supporting cast of the best television series since at least The Wire performed songs from the show’s era live on stage. Serving as a fundraiser for The Recording Academy Los Angeles’ educational programs, it was a night of belting, dancing, vamping, blushing, cracking wise, and generally giving notice that even without the presence of the big stars (no Hamm, Moss, Slattery, Hendricks, Jones, or Kartheiser), the actors of Mad Men are addictive as nicotine and more talented than Peggy Olsen on Popsicles.
Last time I was at the El Rey it was for a Hold Steady show and they confiscated my gum at the door, but there was no such police state Monday, as the Chivas Regal flowed freely, and certain members of my party even took it upon themselves to smoke indoors–their excuse being, naturally, that we’d gone back in time. Before a stage draped in rich red curtains, candy girls tried to fatten us with taffy as taffeta dresses rustled against velour, evoking those halcyon days when men were men, women with opinions were terrifying, burlesque tempted the imagination, and supper-club bands ruled the world. Our emcee for the night was Joel “Freddy Rumsen” Murray, who admirably piloted the ship (without peeing on himself once!) after opening by encouraging us to “Keep sippin’ the Chivas, because the more you sip, the smoother this’ll all go.” One by one, he introduced his castmates, as MM composer David Carbonara (and the Chivas Thirteen) kept brassy time behind them: Mark “Duck Phillips” Moses channeling Ol’ Blue Eyes’s voice on “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”; Allison “Trudy Campbell” Brie abusing a white fur stole during Sammy Kaye’s “Daddy”; Maggie “Rachel Menken” Siff throwing down a take on “Black Coffee” so vicious it could very well have summoned a facial expression out of Don Draper himself; and Robert “Bert Cooper” Morse proving he’s not so much acting on the show while delivering his wonderfully dotty performance of “I Believe In You” straight to creator Matthew Weiner.
Start to finish, the talent show variety hour thingy was a pure joyto watch, which is not to say the night was without nerves; Ieventually gleaned they’d had about two days to rehearse, and Michael”Paul Kinsey” Gladis confessed it was only “the better part of a bottleof bourbon” that got him on stage with his acoustic guitar for aheartfelt Dylan number–“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”–completewith a lyrical false start that he blamed on Weiner’s presence. Thiserror was more than negated by the fact that, while every other man onstage was buttoned up in a Brooks Brothers tux, Gladis was fetchinglyin shirtsleeves, suspenders, and undone bow tie, as though the end ofthe night had already come and gone and we were down in the Villagewith Rosemary DeWitt or something. (He also got to come back out later and nuzzle a burlesque dancer, which I suppose means we’d moved on to the Lower East Side?)
From my vantage point in the house, I could spot the cast members watchingeach other from the wings like kids, and pockets of cheers frequentlysprang up from the MM staffers and crew in the house, lendingthe whole night an I’ve-got-a-barn-let’s-do-a-show vibe so rarelyremembered in this crazy, commercially-jaded town. After Bryan”Salvatore Romano” Batt and a gaggle of dancing girls brought the housedown with Dean Martin’s “Sway,” everyone was so amped that the presenceof Dar Williams backing Colin “Father Gill” Hanks (pictured) for afinale rendition of “Early in the Morning” barely made a ripple. Whatthe hell was Dar Williams doing there? Who cared! We were very giddyand full of Chivas and free cheese, and we’d taken the wonderment to 11.
There’s a reason Mad Men reaped a kabillion Emmy nomsthis year, PopWatchers, and it’s not just the well-written scripts orthe kindly hobos. Every single cast member who walked out on stage owned itMonday night, not to mention the fact that they owned the ballsnecessary to put something like this together in the first place. Thesefolks aren’t just paper dolls moved about between nicely art-directedashtrays–they are professionals, with a thousand years ofBroadway and regional theater experience among them. They gots theproverbial chops. This “Night on the Town with Mad Men” notonly made me like the show better (not hard; I’m still crabby aboutwhat they did to poor Peggy last season), but gave me hope that forevery Hills spinoff, there might be another one of these sortsof programs upon which real actors ply a real craft and make real artfor everyone who’s got the patience to soak it all in. Yes, that’s aconcept as old-timey as big bands and Lucky Strikes, but I was born 30years too late to avoid the slow demise of intelligent culture and thisdream is all I’ve got. So congrats, cast of much-hyped TV show. You dida good thing. Thanks for the memories.
P.S. to network execs: I’m proposing we eliminate TCA next summer andjust have a talent show. If you can sell your crime procedural about anunconventional [vaguely scientific person] who teams up with[government agency] to fight crime by getting the cast to hoof theirway through an Andrews Sisters number, maybe I’ll sit up and payattention.