The Duplex – Every couple of months
In the long-running—it hit the airwaves in 1942!—BBC radio program Desert Island Discs, guests are asked to present their choice of the eight recordings they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. The guest explains the reasoning behind each selection, and the recording is played. If I were asked which cabaret artists I would want if that were my plight, I have no doubt that one of my eight choices would be twin brothers Robbie and Paul Rescigno, d.b.a The Rescignos. (You might say, hey, that should count as two choices, to which I would reply, get your own island!)
For starters, one thing I should want if I were alone on a desert island is cheering up. No one better for the job than this musical comedy duo. Not only are these young men very funny, they project something more fundamentally cheery than laughter: a sense that life is a joy and our planet is a ball of cotton candy. I suppose there might be more yocks in a master comedian’s stand-up routine, but I doubt there would be as much pure delight. These qualities come through equally in their musical numbers and their patter.
Most of their musical selections are pieces of special material written by Michael Hadge and Cory Pattak, all performed with the able piano accompaniment of musical director Aaron Jodoin. Pattak’s “The Rescignos Theme,” about famous pairs, is as clever as it is engaging as it is adorable—like the Rescignos, themselves. The other side of that coin is represented by Hadge’s “Twinless,” which tells of successful people who didn’t have a twin; it’s another winner. Hadge also contributed the “Delaware National Anthem,” the best geographical put-down I know of since Francesca Blumenthal and Addy Fieger’s “Queens,” and the fanciful and witty “Hang Back,” in which we learn why Paul is younger than Robbie. Not only is the special material very well written, it suits the lads perfectly—as it should, since all of it was written for them. And as good as these songs are, they are enhanced by Paul and Robbie’s natural charm and performance savvy—their timing, their delivery, their facial expressions.
Their patter covers such subjects as their childhood, the fact of their twin-ness, their relationship, and just dealing with life. In their hands, this appears to be endlessly fertile territory. A recurring motif is the pair’s fraternal competitiveness. In this and in other regards, The Rescignos may put one in mind of the Smothers Brothers, but the differences are significant. Each of the Smothers Brothers had a clear, distinctive persona: conservative and solid, Dick was the straight man, and Tom was the naughty boy. With The Rescignos, the personality distinctions are less pronounced; just when I’m ready to brand Paul the mischief-maker, Robbie goes on the offensive and fires off a barrage of zingers. The Smothers Brothers were frequently political and controversial; not so Robbie and Paul. And the two duos vary greatly in their pacing and delivery: Dick and Tom took their time, giving pauses and non-verbal reactions almost as much weight as their line readings, whereas the current pair keeps the proceedings on a fast track, cramming a lot of wonderfulness into an hour.
The evening has a high silliness quotient, and since I believe silliness to be an advanced form of comedy, that’s quite good news. You can find it in the songs, in the patter, and in the show’s guiding sensibility. In some of their shows, Paul pokes fun at Robbie for being fat; what elevates this running gag into the realm of the silly is that standing together, the two fellows wouldn’t tip the scales at more than—well, actually, I don’t think they would tip the scales at all.
Another quality I would wish for on a desert island is intelligence, evidence of the glory of the human mind. While there is nothing explicitly intellectual about The Rescignos, clearly a great deal of intelligence goes into each of their evenings. This is reflected in the writing: in the songs by Hadge and Pattak, in the dialogue, and in the parodies, written mainly by Paul. For example, Robbie sings a parody of Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” in which Paul has changed the subjects of the piece to nerdy high school kids who have to suffer their classmates’ derision; the title is now “The Band Kids at Lunch.” The comment I wrote on my songlist reads “F—ing brilliant”.
Brainpower is also evident in the way each show has been put together. (I was amazed—and impressed—to learn that The Rescignos do it without the aid of a director.) As an example, their most recent offering included a new segment involving a decades-old parlor game and audience participation. I’ve seen this device employed before, and usually it is allowed to go on far too long and, so, wears thin. Here, however, it was kept short and crisp, and it was smartly tailored to fit their stage persona. Perfect.
Stranded, I would long for signs of human goodness, a reminder that people can be bighearted and decent. The Rescignos’ barbs, insults and sarcasm notwithstanding, from beginning to end they project a life-affirming, benevolent spirit in general and an appealing brotherly affection in particular. And good though they may be, they are in no way goody-goody. In fact, there are occasional R- and X-rated moments; however, because of the pair’s underlying wholesomeness, these utterances have an innocence about them—rather like the naughty bits in Avenue Q.
In part, it is this backdrop of wholesomeness that makes the against-type parody “Craigslist State of Mind” score so solidly. Based on “Empire State of Mind” (by Jay-Z and a few others), with altered lyrics by Paul and Matt Hoch, the song purports to tell how Robbie met his girlfriend. The very idea of their doing a rap number and of Paul getting down and being bad is preposterous enough to be funny (here’s that silliness quotient again). But with the spirited vocal back-up of Rebecca Weiner and Ryan Holmes, they pull it off: it’s a terrific number and a lot of fun.
Does everything they do land? Damned near. Considering that every show has entirely new patter (though some of the songs are repeated), this is remarkable. Indeed, their batting average is so high that their place in Cooperstown is secured. They’re coming back to The Duplex on August 28, this time with a format they adopt from time to time: a variety show, with sketches and guest artists.
Of course, all of the qualities that would make The Rescignos a hot item on the desert island circuit are also virtues in the big city. So I can revise my opening thought and state it more generally: I would be hard put to think of anyone I would rather be entertained by for an hour than The Rescignos.
A while ago, I happened to share a table with them at someone else’s show and we fell into conversation. They are as charming and bright and likable off-stage as they are on-. They’re the real thing.
About the Author
Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.