I SAT WITH Carol Burnett's best friend, the former TV star Jim Nabors, for Burnett's opening night on Broadway in Ken Ludwig's farce, "Moon Over Buffalo." Nabors and I had the time of our lives, and so did the audience. But sometimes I think I could have a near-death experience and the Great White Way's critics would describe it as a mere scratch. That is to say, the experience I have in the theater often bears no resemblance to what I then read in the papers. Are drama critics just genuinely jaundiced, or what? The effort it takes to be brilliantly critical seems to sour them.
The much-feared New York Times gave Carol's show an excellent review, but almost everything I read commented on what were seen as weaknesses in the first act, saying that Miss Burnett didn't have enough to do and speaking of the generally poor quality of Ludwig's play.
I didn't find any of that to be true. The curtain rises on the cast performing a brief, smoke-filled scene from "Cyrano" -- and people started laughing at once.
The audience continued to respond uproariously until the very end of Act One, which moved so swiftly it seemed as though only 15 minutes had passed.
I thought that Miss Burnett, in her Loretta Young '50s dresses (from the divine Bob Mackie) had as much to do as any actress in a slapstick farce could cope with. And I think the play itself is highly underrated. "Moon Over Buffalo" is about two less-than-Lunt type performers in the show-must-go-on tradition, and the play never bored me for even one second.
It's delightful. And it has the flavor of repertory theater down pat. With its overdone ham actors and mistaken identities, Shakespeare would have loved it! But forget the Bard: Jim Nabors and I were limp with laughter at the end.
So I say don't miss Carol Burnett, a genius who has been away from the stage for much too long. At one point, her character says she is beginning to resemble Ed Sullivan. But Burnett is actually chic and glamorous throughout, an ugly duckling turned into a tempestuous swan. And there is one sight gag in this show that's just about the funniest thing I've ever seen: It has a stage manager trying to put a pair of pants on Carol's drunken hubby, played by the magnificent Philip Bosco. The actors turn this piece of business into a fabulous, hysterical moment which goes on and on, skirting the edges of good taste, as true hilarity often does.
Jim Nabors and I want to recommend that you rush to the Martin Beck box office for "Moon Over Buffalo."
No comeback for Nabors
And here's a bit of news. Nabors told me he had flown all the way from Hawaii just to see Carol. He is the godfather of one of her beautiful daughters (all three of them were on hand for opening night). When I asked Nabors if he'd ever return to acting, TV's classic "Gomer Pyle" said, "Nope, I'm into nuts. I raise macadamia nuts in Hawaii and that's good enough for me."
TV's sexiest man
So who is TV's sexiest man of the moment? Forget it if you think we're going for the obvious, like George Clooney or even Jimmy Smits.
It's Tom Verica of CBS's ratings-poor but well worth catching "Central Park West." Verica has a kind-of funny nose and a boxy body -- he looks for real. No offense to "CPW's" prettier boys, but Verica has our vote as the show's breakout male. As long as CBS doesn't pull the plug on this icy-slick, attitude-drenched soap before it gets a real chance.
On the distaff side, Madchen Amick is "CPW's" resident bad girl, and she's good -- I mean bad! But we also like the ravishing Michael Michele as Ron Leibman's gallery-owner mistress. She's good-bad, but she's not evil.
Charisma to spare
And who is the most charismatic actor of the new TV season? Hands down, don't argue -- it's Daniel Benzali of ABC's riveting "Murder One." He is the most compulsively watchable bald guy since Telly Savalas. What an actor, what a show!