By Dale King
The musical comedy theater scene is peppered with shows about the Baby Boom generation. One need only see certain key words on a marquee to realize the production playing on the stage beyond the double doors deals with issues near and dear to folks knocking on retirement’s door: Menopause, early bird dinners, rheumatoid arthritis, little blue pills, condos, grandkids and Happy Days memories.
It should be a relief to all that the one-person production now playing at the Palm Beaches Theatre in Manalapan stars Tommy Koenig, a real-life comedian, talking about a real-life Baby Boomer — himself — without straying to ancillary issues.
His 90-minute, intermission-less tale called Baby Boom Baby comically recounts the years Koenig struggled to keep up with changing times, just missing Woodstock by a few miles (he was working in a non-entertainment job in the Catskills at the time). He tells of dealing with college, sex, travel and drugs and enduring the constantly changing music landscape that morphed from rock ’n’ roll to heavy metal, disco to punk, MTV to rap and beyond.
The audience takes a moment to warm up to Koenig, who bounds onto the stage amid music from the rock opera Tommy blaring from overhead speakers. Born in Brooklyn (applause, applause), he was raised in Rockaway Beach (more applause). Clearly, he and the crowd are moving onto the same comic page.
The son of a musician who played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra during World War II, Koenig says his career was influenced by chance meetings with two icons, John F. Kennedy and George Carlin. Mainly, though, he was influenced by music and its impact on the culture and personal choices of Baby Boomers.
By now, Koenig is rocking. He thinks back to his youthful days when airplanes landed at “Idlewild Airport.” While wondering how he could have missed out on Woodstock, he concocts a fictitious audience for that festival made up of Jews and elders.
“Watch out for some bad acid … reflux,” he says, then vocalizes a song from “that famous group, Crosby, Stills and Nosh.” He lifts his voice: “….and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden … State!”
The man who turns the Manalapan stage into a Boomer playground earned a degree in theater from the SUNY University at Buffalo. Soon after graduating, he joined an acting troupe there and relocated with it to Brooklyn College.
Schooled early at Comedy Central and with National Lampoon, he hosted “Short Attention Span Theatre” and “Stand up Stand up” before he became a true stand-up comedian. He has opened for a number of performers, including Warren Zevon, Alvin Lee, Bonnie Raitt, Dave Mason, Los Lobos and Joan Jett. He wrote songs and appeared in music videos, several movies and TV shows.
You can read his full bio on the two-page theater sheet that passes for a program. But right now, he’s on stage, and he’s soaring. By switching wigs, he does a musical run through the history of the Beatles, even grooving on Paul McCartney with a fake, left-handed guitar. He skewers the many sides of Elton John by donning ever-more outrageous eyeglasses from a box on one of several psychedelic pedestals on the stage.
Suddenly, he is impersonating Edith Bunker singing a Neil Young song. A moment later, he is an elderly Billy Joel, then he becomes Bruce Springsteen, singing a lament about America’s export/import gap: “Nothing is made in the USA….”
And he adds: “If Springsteen is a working-class hero, why does he call himself ‘The Boss?’”
Tommy’s on a roll as he kicks into perhaps his best gig, his impersonation of grumpy old men singing songs in grumpy old man style. Commenting on how much money the group, the Eagles, has made, he sings, “We own 14 hotels in California….”
By now, 90 minutes have flown by, and Koenig is wrapping up the production he created in 2013 and continues to tweak. Afterward, he offers a philosophical look back at the show: “Seeing that audiences of every age are ‘getting it’ is a revelation and inspires me to keep doing this show.”
Baby Boom Baby plays through May 15 at the Palm Beaches Theatre, 250 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. Tickets are available online at palmbeachestheatre.org or by phone at 855-728-8497.