Nothing I might say about the appalling "Late Nite Comic," a musical about a comedian who does not say one funny thing all evening long, could be crueler than allowing the show to remain open, thus forcing the luckless cast to keep doing it eight times a week. It should be put out of its misery at once.
Call me an etymological purist if you like - go on, make my day, it needs it! - but I find it curiously difficult to have any respect for people who spell "night" in that vulgar phoneticism "nite."
And the producers of "Late Nite Comic," which for some obscure reason opened at the Ritz Theater last nite (sick! even nauseous), have done nothing to make me revise my opinion.
Every Broadway season one gets a few shows - often they seem to be musicals, possibly because so many producers have tin ears - that challenge commonsense or even belief that they have actually been staged.
One would have thought that "Late Nite Comic" would have been rejected at the first run-through, or at least the first backers' audition - or at any of the steps along the road to the first night, where someone in authority and command of their wits could say: "Stop! Enough, already."
But no - every season sees a gobbling, dispirited parade of withered old turkeys meekly lining up for profitless slaughter.
Anyway - back to "Late Nite Comic." You know I spent some of my time during the show, just wondering what all those people who had savagely pounced on poor old adequate "Roza" - Broadway's last, in my view, very unlucky casualty - were going to find to say about this.
Take about escalating insults - you would need Vladimir and Estragon themselves to do justice to this one.
"Late Nite Comic" traces the rise of a seemingly untalented saloon piano player in Manhattan into a seemingly untalented stand-up comic in Las Vegas. In the course of this dizzy spiral he wins the love of a definitely untalented ballerina with wandering toe-shoes.
The music (Brian Gari) is pitched somewhere between a jingle and a trickle, Gari's lyrics are pitched somewhere between banality and stupidity and the book (Allan Knee - as in "I Left My Heart at Wounded Knee") is just pitched.
The scenery by Clarke Dunham is chiefly screens and photo-projections (it all looks very cheap indeed, so I trust it was), but at the preview I saw, did get one of the only two laughs - the other being a nun-joke in amongst all the non-jokes - when a prop refrigerator fell apart on a revolve.
The book, of course, does have an inbuilt difficulty - in that when it is tracing its hero's rise from obscurity, he is meant to be extremely unfunny - a quality Knee catches unerringly on his pad.
Unfortunately at the end - when he is meant to be this hotshot David Brenner figure in Vegas - the delivery is better, but the material is really no funnier.
No one is currently owning up to having directed the show - and quite conceivably no one did.
Of course, with this kind of fiasco, one genuinely does feel sorry for all concerned, especially those on stage, who are doing their best with what they have been given.
In somber fairness, this present cast - with one glaring, neon-lit exception - does not seem unusually gifted, but perhaps no one could tell in the circumstances.
The exception is Robert LuPone as the eponymous comedian, and he, within the parameters and limitations of his material, is quite wonderful.
Looking a little like an anthropoid Jiminy Cricket, he radiates genuine charm, acts with the insouciance of a boy standing on a burning deck, and when he arrives at his final comedy routine, puts over the mush he has been given with such expertise, that there seems little doubt - if he either wrote his material or hired a writer - he could make a genuine career out of it.
This is something which, after the "Late Nite Comic" becomes the late Late Nite Comic, he might seriously consider. Night club bookers are advised to catch his act while it's still around.
"Late Nite Comic,'' the new Brian Gari-Allan Knee musical that opened last night at the Ritz Theater, is the first musical comedy in which the hero longs to be Rodney Dangerfield - and in which the heroine dreams about dancing at the Metropolitan Opera House, rather than, for example, with the New York City Ballet. It is also a show without a director. Philip Rose, who guided the show during its pre-Broadway tryout, has had his name removed from the credits. This could be compared to the captain of the Titanic having his name removed from the ship's log after the ship hit the iceberg.
''Late Nite Comic'' has no sense of direction. It also has no sense of book or score. In the course of the show, the hero (Robert LuPone) moves all the way from the Krazy Korn Klub to a tinseled stage in Las Vegas. We are asked to believe that in his rise to fame he has sharpened his comedy act and earned his success. Although the jokes are just as dreadful in the end as in the beginning, when he becomes a success more people on stage laugh at him. This is a musical comedy about a stand-up comic in which the hero tells not a single funny joke.
As a background to the bad humor, Mr. LuPone has an on-again, off-again romance with a dancer (Teresa Tracy) who seems equally confused about her own direction. Her road to the Met leads her to Hollywood by way of Paramus, N.J. Her dream of ballet is represented by a song entitled ''Clara's Dancing School,'' which relies heavily on our affection for ''A Chorus Line.''
If Mr. Gari's music and lyrics are pedestrian, Mr. Knee's book is a jaywalker, moving every which way to no apparent purpose. At the very least, ''Late Nite Comic'' should have a feeling of the acute desperation of a would-be stand-up comic, such as was the case in the vastly superior Off Broadway musical, ''Three Guys Naked From the Waist Down.''
Though Mr. LuPone is unflappable even when his jokes are failing, as an actor he cannot be said to have the soul of a stand-up. Ms. Tracy's perky manner and voice are not endearing. During the Las Vegas finale, the two compare themselves to Mickey and Minnie Mouse - and, for once, the show strikes a note of truth.
One would have expected, at least, to admire the scenery, but the usually adept Clarke Dunham seems to have checked his imagination at the stage door (along with Mr. Rose's directorial credit). ''Late Nite Comic'' has game-show scenery - four large billboards on which are projected dull postcard views of New York by night. In their crowded apartment, the heroine keeps a tabletop figure of a Buddha, ''for good luck,'' she explains. The hero responds, ''I think you need a bigger Buddha.'' ''Late Nite Comic'' needs a very big Buddha.