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ROBIN WILLIAMS:  LIVE ON BROADWAY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Star: Robin Williams
Director:  Marty Callner
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Music Video/HBO
Features:  Director Interview, “Noises”, Backstage Footage
Length:  126 Minutes
Release Date:  November 19, 2002

“This will not be your normal night of theatre.  This will be Shakespeare with a strap-on!”

Concert ****

As comedians like Jerry Seinfeld have recently demonstrated, you can take the comic out of the club, but not the club out of the comic.  What makes a megastar springboard from stand-up to stratospheric success, but still seem to yearn for the one-on-one with their audience, spinning out fresh material that either sizzles or fizzles?  We mortals may never know.

Robin Williams’ comedy was a staple for me and my friends as we grew up.  First, there was Mork and Mindy, then as we got older, his legendary live performances like Live at the Met.  He, of course, went on to become a big box office star, and, to the delight of devoted fans everywhere, an Oscar winning actor.

I never thought we’d see Mr. Williams on stage doing comedy again.  But, as it recently did Jerry Seinfeld, the stand-up bug bit him, and he announced to the joy of America that he would be embarking on a solo comedy tour.  And a big star plus solo comedy means SOMEBODY somewhere is going to get it on videotape.  The folks at HBO did just that, airing Robin Williams Live on Broadway for all their subscribers to see, which is now available as a DVD for all those unfortunate enough to have missed it the first time around.

Robin Williams and New York made a good match before when he played the Met.  Now, with a whole new world of topics to cover in his manic one-topper-after-another fashion, he delivers one of the greatest comedy concerts ever preserved for video. 

His energy level, even at age 50, is incredible.  He delivers better than an hour and a half of comic material, which is even more remarkable when you consider his fast paced delivery and style (he gives you more jokes per minute than just about any other comic I can think of).  He touches upon everything, without regard to political correctness, including our post 9/11 world, religion, sex (including a finale that will floor you), politics and more.  His always impish smile keeps him from joining the world of the angry or notorious comic; when Mr. Williams covers taboo topics, it’s still in a strangely cuddly way.

I could sit here and quote from his material…in fact, with as much juicy comedy as he squeezes into his act, I could fill up a decent paragraph with it and not really spoil too much for you…but Robin is the whole package:  material plus delivery.  To print it on paper would still be funny, but not as funny as hearing it come from his lips.  It’s the difference between apple pie hot out of the oven or after a day in the refrigerator.

Instead, I find myself wanting to testify to one fact alone:  I laughed hard, loud, and often.  If laughter is indeed the best medicine, Robin Williams Live on Broadway is a better tonic than a booster for your flu shot.  And a lot more fun to sit through.

Video ***

As with most videotape presentations, this isn’t a perfect offering, but certainly good enough, and even a little better than average.  All eyes are on Robin Williams, so nothing else matters.  The presentation is clean enough, and maintains a fair amount of integrity with both stronger and lesser lighting shots, and though video “softness” is relatively minor, it’s still an inevitability.  It’s at least as good as it needs to be, and possibly more.

Audio ***1/2

I loved the 5.1 mix…for starters, it’s LOUD!  I had to crank my receiver down a little bit to compensate.  Even then, the rear and front stages open up the listening experience to put you right in the middle of the show.  Audience reaction seems discreet in all directions making this an incredibly lifelike presentation, and Robin’s voice is clean, clear, and dynamic enough all by itself.  A PCM stereo track is also included, but opt for the 5.1 if you have the gear.

Features **

The features are somewhat light…you get an interview with program director Marty Callner, a look at Robin backstage just before the beginning of the broadcast, a collection of “noises” (cute, but nothing special), and an Easter egg.

Summary:

Robin Williams Live on Broadway showcases a legendary comedian doing what he does best, and doing what he did first.  No one makes them laugh like Robin Williams, and this DVD offering is the proof.  Enjoy.