Billy Ehrlacher

June 18, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

Billy EhrlacherSetting aside the once-ubiquitous novelty hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp),” I had only dim memories of mid-20th-century song parodist Allan Sherman (1924-73). But after seeing “Billy Ehrlacher: Is He Here Again?” at Don’t Tell Mama, I did some YouTube research. This led me to the conclusion that Ehrlacher shares some of Sherman’s comedic DNA. The two look alike, their singing voices sound alike, and they project the same quirky blend of diffidence and bravado.

Ehrlacher, who hails from Allentown, Pennsylvania, presented what was at base a standup comedy routine—full of observational, Seinfeldian humor. He talked about such subjects as working in the food-service industry, his encounter with a deli worker with missing digits, Christmas shopping, television soap operas, his participation in a production of Tony and Tina’s Wedding, and his high-school love life or lack thereof (he described himself sardonically as both a “player” and a “stud muffin”). His set was not a nonstop laugh riot, but occasionally he uttered an odd line that landed beautifully, pinching the audience’s funny bone. He also showed skill as an improviser; interpolating a few amusing impromptu asides.

Sprinkled into the routine were several songs, delivered in an enthusiastic manner and accompanied by the sensitive playing of pianist and musical director Erica Kaplan. Ehrlacher is not a polished vocalist. Finding and keeping the right pitch is a problem, as is maintaining a song’s rhythm. But such details don’t really matter so much in his case. Ehrlacher has something that certain performers with showier and more refined talents could learn from: an unwavering, personalized commitment to the material. When he sings a song such as “Pure Imagination” (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley) or “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” (Frank Wildhorn, Chuck Jackson), he distills it to its emotional essence. His singing reminded me of that of a composer who won’t win any grand prizes in the pipes department but who has somehow found himself asked to perform his own compositions. You listen because you know the songs come from the very core of his being.

That said, maybe it would be wise if Ehrlacher pared back the musical portions of his show a bit. The songs, I think, are something that work better in moderation. Alternatively he could consider finding a few funnier or, at any rate, more offbeat numbers to include—songs that would better complement the tone of the spoken portion of the program. I would certainly be interested in hearing him deliver a few selections from the Allan Sherman songbook. (I’m not saying he should toss out all of the heartfelt, non-comic numbers—only that he should provide more variety.)

I’d encourage him, most of all, to keep the faith and to keep plugging away: sharpening his content and honing his delivery, I have a feeling, though, that pep talks or reminders about work ethic are unnecessary. As he sang so authoritatively in Stephen Schwartz’s “Corner of the Sky”: “I won’t rest until I know I’ll have it all.”

So, to answer the question at the heart of the show: As a matter of fact, yes. Billy Ehrlacher is here again. And if you missed his recent performance, you’ll likely be able to catch him again soon.

“Billy Ehrlacher: Is He Here Again?”
Don’t Tell Mama  –  June 13

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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