January 11, 2019 at 10:04 am PST | by Scott Stiffler
See the show, be the show

Peter Michael Marino entertains the notions of the juice box set, in “Show Up, Kids!” (Photo by Mikiodo)

Two of Manhattan’s hottest acts have booked flights to Los Angeles, with no signs of cooling their jets. So don’t sweat the pressure, cabin or otherwise. Because these interactive shows intend to take you along for the ride — deep into, and well beyond, uncharted territory.

“Show Up, Kids!”

If you’re the kind of person who flinches at the thought of being put on the spot, Peter Michael Marino will put you at ease. The title of the endlessly inventive comedian’s improv show, “Show Up,” was inspired by a determination to acknowledge his own social anxiety, while remaining productive. He’s done just that for over two years now, not only showing up at every NYC “Show Up” show, but taking it on the road, while bucking the cocooning instinct in favor of industry necessities, such as busking and attending parties.

On stage, Marino’s honesty about his own anxiety puts you at ease, and pays dividends when it comes to getting quality audience participation content, culled via a breezy, no-pressure conversation, during which he extracts nuggets from the answers to questions, such as: Anything special happen today? Any love life disasters? Any traumatic childhood memories?

Then, in a deft parody of a one-man show, Marino makes those suggestions come to life, while deputized audience members act as sound technicians and stage managers, suddenly imbued with the ability to bend the narrative to their will.

That neat conceit, it turns out, plays exceedingly well when the reigns of power are turned over to those ages 3-10. “Show Up, Kids!” is his interactive, family-appropriate version, in which Marino plays a friend of beloved children’s entertainer Silly Sally, who steps up when the main attraction is a no-show (“Because that’s what friends are for,” he explains, only to launch into a Dionne Warwick number likely unfamiliar to those born a few mere years ago).

“They give me not only suggestions for what the plot elements are going to be,” Marino said, “but they also provide things during the actual improv. While I’m doing it, I’ll say, something like, ‘and then the dog opened the door, and outside was…’ And one kid, I think he was about eight years old, said, ‘a herd of murdering cats.’ What I think what a normal person would do, would be, bring them into the house. I take their suggestions literally, so I had them attack me, and I went to dog heaven.”

Yes, kids certainly do say the darndest things — but what has Marino learned about how they think? Despite the occasional suggestion of murder, Marino noted, “Kids are very much interested in harmony and peace. They don’t usually use those words, but conflict resolution seems to be something they enjoy.” Invoking the original adult version of his show, Marino observed, “Our generation would like to take the bad road and see what happens. But these kids seem so much more optimistic. Someone saw the show a couple of weeks ago and noted that all the kids in their row were leaning on the seat in front of them, very interested in what was going to happen next in the story… When they’re in control of something, their attention span seems a lot longer.”

Although there are some differences according to geographic location (the Scotland crowd likes “veterinarian,” while NYC goes for “lawyer”), Marino noted some giggle-inducing suggestions are loved the world over: “Poop and vomit,” he said, sounding more comforted than weary. “I get a lot of ‘poop’ and ‘vomit.’ ”

“Show Up, Kids!” makes its West Coast premiere at Complex Hollywood (6468 Santa Monica Boulevard), Jan. 12-20. Visit showuptheshow.com/kids for tickets and info.

Music to your ears: Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso bring “Cast Party” to LA. (Photo by Christopher Boudewyns, artwork by Todd Alan Johnson).

“Jim Caruso’s Cast Party”

Mere steps from Times Square, a Monday night destination event at Birdland Jazz Club beckons Broadway marquee names, amateur crooners, and even vaudevillian talent, all brought together by the entertainer’s ultimate quest: stage time, in front of a supportive crowd. Hosted by the witty and wonderful vocalist Jim Caruso, with world-class support from longtime friend, pianist/arranger Billy Stritch (both of whom shared the stage during the tizzy-inducing 2008 run of “Liza’s at the Palace”), “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party” is Manhattan’s hottest, song-centric open mic.

“This is our fourth trip to LA, to play Vitello’s,” Caruso said, “which is a fantastic jazz venue in the Valley. The food is great, the service, the sound and lights are great. And we have had a blast there.”

Those wanting to belt one out should, Caruso said, “bring sheet music in the correct key, for a fun, upbeat tune. We have Billy at the piano. His wheelhouse is the Great American Songbook, to be sure, but he is very well-versed as a jazz pianist, and certainly knows the Broadway scene. He can play anything, and has to. ‘Cast Party’ can go from Sondheim to Nat King Cole within seconds.” Given the vibe differs depending on who shows up on any given night, Caruso noted, “It’s unpredictable, spontaneous. Ann Hampton Callaway called it ‘come what mayhem.’ ”

Whether it’s their home base in NYC or on the road in places like Palm Springs, Pittsburgh, Austin, Chicago, or Miami, Caruso noted, “We get jazz musicians, movie stars, and, crazy acts… It’s hopefuls, and has-beens, and everyone in-between.” As for the non-professionals who show up with sheet music, “We get to meet people when they’re about to do what they love to do. They really show themselves to us, and it reminds us of the beauty that people can create on their own, with no special effects. It’s a piano and a microphone.”

In the past, LA gigs have seen the likes of Jane Monheit (“a regular,” Caruso noted), Megan Hilty, Jeffrey Osborne, Cybill Shepherd, Jo Anne Worley, and Carol Channing. “The magician, Michael Carbonaro,” Caruso recalled, “once came in naked, in just a towel, and created masks on his face, with shaving cream. It was the darndest thing I’ve seen in my life, and I will never get over it.”

These little magical moments, Caruso proudly noted, happen at “Cast Party” with astonishing regularity. “I don’t know why or how,” he said, “but I don’t question it anymore.”

“Cast Party” is at Vitello’s (4249 Tujunga Ave., Studio City), 7:30 PM, on Wed. and Thurs., Jan. 16 and 17. For info, call 818-769-0905. Venue info at vitellosrestaurant.com. Artist info at jim-caruso.com and billystritch.com.

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