They said the public would turn on Bill Clinton if he was lying. They said HMOs would improve health care. They said there would be no more Alien movies. Who the hell are they? The House Judiciary Committee? The Church of Scientology? The Backstreet Boys? Who knows? But whoever they are, they’ve been out in force on Broadway this month. They’ve been giving bad buzz to the Public Theater’s revival of the 1944 musical On the Town and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Little Me, starring Martin Short. Well, they were wrong, and both shows are, to varying degrees, pleasant, at times artful, funny surprises just in time for the holidays.

Whether you’ll love Little Me will depend on your tolerance level for Martin Short and Neil Simon’s shtick. Originally produced in 1962 (book by Simon, music and lyrics by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh), this series of cornball numbers and sketches starred Sid Caesar, who played seven characters, each of them destroyed by one woman. (The inherent misogyny in this concept is disturbing, but the enterprise is such a giddy, numbskull burlesque that it seems silly to make much of it.) When it was announced that the show would be revived with Martin Short, they (Katie Couric and Matt Lauer?) were skeptical, and so was I.

Little Me wasn’t a big hit back in ’62, and I could just see Short traipsing about the stage in different costumes doing that Ed Grimley dance he did on Saturday Night Live. Which is exactly what Short does, but as it happens that Ed Grimley bit is hilarious — maybe because we haven’t seen him do it in awhile. In addition to the leading-man role, a lockjawed overachieving mama’s boy (who becomes a lawyer and a doctor), Short lends his remarkable energy to seven supporting fellows, among them a nearly blind World War I soldier, a Maurice Chevalier knockoff, and a despotic German movie director. Such amazing versatility, I must say.

Director Rob Marshall (also Cabaret‘s choreographer and codirector), keeps everyone else out of Short’s way, which is good and bad news. The considerable talents of Faith Prince (as the big-busted, dim-witted, unwitting man killer) go unused, and the stage dims a bit when Short isn’t commandeering it. There is a brief exception, when Michael Park — a dashing Broadway vet who originally did the Elvis Presley numbers in the Leiber and Stoller revue Smokey Joe’s Cafe — sings ”I’ve Got Your Number” while performing a striptease. He almost steals the first act, but Little Me ultimately rests squarely and solidly on Short’s slight but able shoulders.

Short’s last show was the flop musical The Goodbye Girl five years ago, and it’s nice to have him back on the boards. I bet he’s back for good, and I bet he’ll be joined by Lea DeLaria in a great new musical next year. Well, that’s what they (Brandy and Monica?) are saying, anyway. If only it were true. B