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July, 2012

An Insiders Look at Manhattan Stories: Improvised Woody Allen

Andy Buck is a cast member of Manhattan Stories: Improvised Woody Allen, which is our current Mainstage show. Here he ruminates on what led him to be a part of this project. 

One of my earliest memories:

A young Andy Buck performing magic, long before he made magic on stage.

I’m six or seven, and my mom is cooking dinner. I’m watching TV, as usual, and I see Woody Allen on a talk show. He talks about being Jewish. And even though his jokes flew over my head, I understood intuitively that this motherfucker is funny. So I went running into the kitchen, where my decidedly not-Jewish mother was frying a meat of some sort. And I threw an epic tantrum—angry (at her, I suppose) for not being Jewish.

I wanted to be Jewish. I didn’t want to be a Texan, or a WASP, or pale and chubby. I wanted to be nebbishy, clever, a cynical outsider commenting on the tragic absurdity of existence. At six, I wanted all of this.

I wanted to be Woody Allen.

And thanks to “Manhattan Stories” opening July 7 at the Hideout, I’m getting a chance to. Sort of.

Look, improvising an entire Woody Allen film is tough to do well. Sure, it’s easy to fill a stage with improvisers doing Woody Allen impressions to varying success. But it’ll get old quick.

(Sidenote: The director of “Manhattan Stories” is Jon Bolden, who looks like Richie Rich but sounds exactly like Woody. And he’ll be hosting the show each night, so you’ll get to see his genius live and in person.)

No, the goal of “Manhattan Stories” is to give you a show that, when the 75 minutes (or so) are over, leaves you with the sense of having just seen a Woody Allen film. Woody chi, if you will. We want to slather you in erudite Manhattan marinade and leave you dripping with wit. Nothing less will suffice, damnit.

What I’m trying to get to is this: Our directors, Jon Bolden and Valerie Ward, have done something special with this show.

Because think about it, what makes a Woody Allen film a Woody Allen film? At the outset of rehearsals, I would’ve answered “New York” and “stylish” and “sarcasm.” Those are all $2 observations.

But now, after many hours of film-watching and rehearsing, I answer with things like “obsession with death” and “ambivalence to intellectualism” and “false romanticism.” Those are $5 words. Yay, me!

I’m relatively new to improv. In fact, I’ll celebrate my one-year improv anniversary (improversary?) during the last “Manhattan Stories” in late August.

The cast, which is full of seasoned pros, has teased me about constantly mentioning my “noob” status. But I tend to preface my comments during rehearsal with “I’m kind of new to improv, but…” because I’m standing in a room with about 50 years of combined improv experience, and they’re all so fantastic and smart and funny.

They’re superstars, every one of them. And they’ll ensure that if you come see this show, you will afterward thank yourself for making such a culturally astute and thoroughly entertaining decision.

This is a once-in-a-long-while show.

Plus it’s just going to be funny. Really, truly, Manhattanly funny.

So yeah, maybe I was born a chubby kid to a Methodist family in Dallas, which is almost the complete opposite of Woody, but for a couple of hours every Saturday night in July and August, I’m going to pretend. I’m going to pretend the hell out of it.

Thanks, Andy! Come see Manhattan Stories through July and August, starting Saturday July 7th. 

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