Off-Broadway Review: “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” – The Real Donald Trump at 5:56 a.m. on November 19 2016

Just when you think the theatre is a safe place again after the president-elect’s recent challenge to the producers and creative team of “Hamilton,” Jake Broder barrels into Manhattan and onto the stage at 59E59 (the “little cavern in 59 squared”) with “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” inviting the audience “to commune with your subconscious mind and ask yourself just who in the hell do you think you are.” Obviously, the underbelly of the conscious mind is not the safest place to play although Mr. Broder’s delicious ninety-minute two-set foray to those depths are special indeed and a must-see event.

Jake Broder’s character is based on the ineffable Lord Richard Buckley (1906 – 1960). Assisted by The Hip News Man Michael Lanahan and backed by hippest jazz trio in town, Mr. Broder delivers an unbridled full bore fusillade against racism, sexism, (oddly not against homophobia), xenophobia and all things president-electoral and offers the possibility of a world where non-judgmental and unconditional love would reign over God’s “stash, God’s “Great Lake of Love.”

After an opening set of “up” bop tunes (Duke Ellington’s version of “Money Jungle” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia”) Mr. Lanahan introduces Lord Buckley who, after explaining “hip semantics,” launches into three stunning examples of that artful genre giving new “hip” meaning to Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, Robert Browning’s “Pied Piper of Hamelin,” and a humorous but challenging reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that reeks of Trump’s disturbing uber-ego. Equally challenging is counterpointing the about to be president’s parsimony with that of Scrooge and his history of not keeping promises: “So, Willy, let you and me be wipers/Of scores out with all men--especially pipers!/And, whether they pipe us free, from rats or from mice,/If we’ve promised them ought, let us keep our promise” (Robert Browning).

Truth has a way of thinning a crowd and after Mr. Broder’s dark “retelling” of “Georgia on My Mind” (Ray Charles) including images of a lynching, the audience returned after the intermission with fewer patrons around the cabaret-style tables that replaced Theater B’s traditional theatre seating. 

In his second set (Act II), focuses more on the possibilities for humankind post recent political fallout. Mr. Broder shares a hip version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (with Mr. Lanahan as “Lanky Link”), a splendidly compressed life of Mahatma Gandhi (the “Hip Ghan”), and a skillful re-telling of “The Nazz’s” Sermon on the Mount. Under David Ellenstein’s careful and generous direction, Josh Broder’s writing and performance challenge not only the substratum of the human psyche but also the physical landscape the psyche must traverse.  Mr. Lanahan, who counterpoints Mr. Broder with brilliant rapport, provides engaging performances throughout.

Mr. Broder’s honesty and authentic performances are true insights into the human condition and the state of the nation in the present. He is engaging, informed, and understands the role of comedy in effecting significant change. In his book “Chronicles,” Bob Dylan said "Buckley was the hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels." Jake Broder reimagines that stage performer and delivers a performance that establishes him – like the Nazz – to be among the “coolest, grooviest, swingin'est, wailin'est, swingin'est cat that ever stomped on this jumpin' green sphere.”

As he introduces the stellar band, Jake Broder’s Lord Buckley challenges the audience with “I have a dream that one day, this country will rehearse love so hard that every cat and kittie, red white and blue will be swingin it together, level, in font! Don't get mad, love harder! If you dig that, can I get a hallelujah?” Hallelujah indeed. 


Jake Broder is joined by actor Michael Lanahan and a jazz trio featuring Brad Russell (bass), Mark Hartman (piano), and Daniel Glass (drums). 

The lighting and sound design is by Aaron Rumley. The Production Stage Manager is Norah Scheinman. Production photos by Vincent Scarano.

“His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, January 1.  The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. Please note the Holiday performance schedule: Sat. Dec 24 & 31 at 2:15 & 5:15 only; no performances on Sun. Dec 25; Sun. Jan 1 at 3:15 only; added performances on Wednesday, Dec 21 at 2:15, and Friday Dec 23 & Dec 30 at 5:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 - $40 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes including an intermission.

Photo: Jake Broder is Lord Buckley in HIS ROYAL HIPNESS LORD BUCKLEY at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Vincent Scarano