Opening night curtain call. Photo: Tory Parker
The Nightman Cometh
By Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and Rob McElhenney
Directed by Sabrina Spalding
A review by Tory Parker
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Tory Parker. All rights reserved.
The only thing you need to know about this musical is that Charlie (Lee Stein) wrote it and there’s absolutely no angle behind it, there’s no “mark” he’s trying to get at, he just wrote a musical because he wanted to and that’s all. That’s how we’re plunged into the world of The Nightman Cometh, swinging strong, and you better hold on to your beer, because we’re riding this high-speed train for the next 37 minutes.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has plenty of claims to fame: it has more seasons than any other American live-action comedy series, it’s the main reason Gen Z knows who Danny DeVito is, it regularly appears on “Best Sitcoms of All Time” lists–it even has a Russian remake called It’s Always Sunny in Moscow–and it has this episode, The Nightman Cometh. If you were a sentient adult (specifically a youngish adult) in 2008, you have heard of this episode. It is the season 4 finale, and it’s everything great about Sunny–it’s irreverent, it’s camp, it’s crass, and it’s borderline psychotic. It was so popular that in 2009 the Sunny team put it on as a live stage musical at The Troubadour in LA. (The same place Elton John made his American debut. The same place Richard Pryor recorded his live debut album. THAT Troubadour.) Both performances sold out in 10 minutes.
I’ll admit, I was apprehensive about whether or not this live show could live up to the episode. After 162 episodes, it’s hard to think of these characters outside of the actors who play them. The team at Bard Theatre saw that challenge, and like the Dayman to the Nightman, freakin’ conquered it.
How do you capture the raw, chaotic energy of one of the craziest episodes of one of the wildest shows ever on television? First, get a director who is Down to Clown–Sabrina Spalding knows you’re (hopefully) not here for a groundbreaking new perspective on the fallacy of the American dream. Curtain speeches are a yucky, necessary evil, and her casual greeting of the audience for a five-minute warning and the clever way she incorporates the basic important information lets you know from the get-go…yeah, this is going to be dumb. That’s The Point™.
Secondly, fill your cast with buck wildly funny people who clearly like to have fun together and who have, if not a love of the show, a respect for the people who have a love for the show. “The Gang” are terrible people, bad friends, atrocious at their jobs, potentially illiterate, borderline dumpster fires, and boy does this cast nail it.
With Lee Stein’s earnest, Golden Retriever excitement, you can’t help but love Charlie, even when he’s outright harassing the woman he “loves” or screaming about wanting to rip off his friend’s faces. Meghan Logue Holland, an award-winning actress (she tells you this in her show-stopping number, “(Just to be Clear…)”), perfectly captures the dry-as-a-bone wit, Dee, reminding you she’s not just one of the Boys–she’s worse! Jacob Cooper and Corey Music might feel a little flat in the opening, but come bursting to life in “the show,” fearlessly diving into the surreal stupidity of it, feeding us, the audience, like baby birds, starved for a smidgen of happiness in this perpetual cycle of doom.
“Oh, but no one could ever compare to comedy legend Danny DeVito!” Ok, so clearly you aren’t familiar with comedy legend Joey Eberling (who plays Frank, DeVito’s character on the show), whose rendition of “Troll Toll” nearly brought me to tears. Was the rubber balding wig really necessary? Yes, what an absolutely pointless question. It was perfect.
Rounding out the cast are Sabrina Spalding as the long-suffering Waitress, Helen Magnolia Hensley as Co-Director (Assistant Director? Script Writer? Producer??) Artemis and Sarah Mackell (the show’s actual stage manager, for real) as unbeknownst board operator Gladys. Hensley’s Artemis is the perfectly frightening combination of your overly enthusiastic Intro to Acting professor and that girl from high school who was into the Shakespearean tragedies, in a big way. The character on the show can get overpowered by The Gang, but Hensley bubbles to the top.
Lastly–let it be what it is. This episode came out in 2008! Obama had JUST been elected, we were fresh off a major housing market crash, and low-rise jeans were out for blood. Would some of the jokes be made on TV now? No! And it’s not because they’re necessarily inherently offensive, but it’s just not what sitcoms are doing in 2022. But Sunny remains funny because it doesn’t punch down. Every joke is made by characters their own creators describe as “a group of narcissistic, sociopathic friends,” whose terrible ideas play out at their own expense.
The Nightman Cometh ain’t Shakespeare. (For one thing, Shakespeare is still playing at the park for free and this is ticketed.) But it’s a perfect night out if you love the TV show, or even if you just need a laugh. Sometimes a play can change how you understand yourself and the world around you–sometimes it ends with an entire room singing “Dayman” at the top of their lungs in the crumbling attic theater at a beloved local pub where the guy playing Nightman tends bar before AND after the show and where, at any given moment, there is MAYBE a single working toilet. In light of that, hold it in if you can, but if you pee yourself laughing, “It’s Nature, Shit Happens.”
Featuring Lee Stein, Jacob Cooper, Corey Music, Meghan Logue Holland, Joey Eberling, Helen Magnolia Hensley, Sabrina Spalding, and Sarah Mackrell. Music arranged and performed by Adam Hendrickson.
July 14 – 23 @ 7:30 pm
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Tory Parker is originally from West Virginia, graduated from Centre College, and now works in marketing at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens. In Louisville, she’s worked and performed with Claddagh Theatre Company, the Chamber Theatre, Bellarmine University, Wayward Actors Company, Derby City Playwrights, Company Outcast and director Emily Grimany. As a playwright, her original works appeared in the National Women’s Theatre Festival in their 2020 and 2021 Fringe Festivals.