This quartet of American comics is definitely a puncture-kit short of the full bicycle – but all the funnier for that. My eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the Tour de France so I went to the King's Head with low expectations, even though one of the guys is Dan Castellanata, the actor who voices Homer Simpson. He looks like a wirier, madder, more bulgy-eyed Jasper Carrott in the flesh – an ectomorph to Homer's endomorph.
In a week when France's President Sarkozy has been getting cosy with George Dubya in Washington, I was looking forward to a little counterbalancing Francophobia from this show. It tracks the surreal difficulties that ensue when an American tourist's bike breaks down and he's left at the mercy of the rude, obstructive French while it's being fixed. But I hadn't reckoned on nearly busting a gut laughing at the inspired silliness with which The Bicycle Men is awash.
I was taken to task for my audible appreciation by a young female friend who snorted her scorn and said that this humour must be a "middle-aged male thing". I usually think she has very good taste, so gallantly forebore to say that there were quite a few women her age at the first night having a high old time.
The aptly named composer-lyricist Mark Nutter wrote the ridiculously witty spoof songs. These range from an ear-splitting Japanese ditty, sung as a self-soporific by a Dutchman bedded next to our hero at the youth hostel, to an outrageous Bob Fosse/Chicago send-up about being the only hetero in the cast of a Broadway musical. "I eat all that manly stuff up with a spoon/ Like broads and booze/ When you look at me don't think of Tommy Tune/ Think Tom Cruise/ Wait! – bad example".
With Nutter coaxing all manner of orchestral sounds from his keyboard, Castellanata is waylaid by a gallimaufry of Gallic weirdos, inventively performed by Joe Liss and John Rubano. The loopy, self-referring scenario resembles a cross between The Twilight Zone and an evening at Harvard's Hasty Pudding Club. Yes, it is a bit sophomoric but I loved its speed and artful mix of innocence and knowingness. The Bicycle Men is, however, saddled with one of the least sexy titles ever. Why not call it something like Eat My Cycle Shorts?
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