Orson Bean’s career is extraordinary. Born in 1928 and baptized Dallas Frederick Burrows, he started performing as a child at home. After World War II, he became a magician, but soon morphed into a stand-up comic in the early 1950s. He acquired his unusual moniker after a nightclub piano player suggested some names that might grab an audience immediately. After a number of suggestions failed, including “Roger Duck,” the savvy keyboardist offered “Orson Bean.” The audience laughed and it has been Orson Bean ever since. He has worked steadily, year after year, on Broadway, television and film right up to the present moment. Bean’s comic timing is impeccable and his a capella singing is pitch perfect.
Teamed with his beautiful wife, Alley Mills, a star in her own right, most famously in the eight-year run of The Wonder Years, the two stars make vibrant entertainment out of their life stories in their autobiographical two-person show, Alright Then. With great good humor and high, audience pleasing hilarity, the two stars tell their individual tales from childhood to the present moment in the most intimate of ways. They sing, they joke and they recreate with precise impressions the important people in their lives. Everything is fair game for these delightfully shameless show people, including their obvious age difference; he is pushing ninety with a short stick and she is sixty-six. Their marriage has endured since 1993, and the evidence of their successful relationship is right there on stage as they hand off the story telling assignments with the smooth professionalism of the stars they are.
As I am sure there are many details that remain private, the performers reveal much about their lives, both the joys and the pains. While their childhoods were shattered by divorce, they also had moments of joy with friends and significant adults. The particulars of their professional trajectory is utterly fascinating, the details of which, readers, you will have to see and hear for yourselves. This show is a joy to experience with laughter abounding and moments of touching pathos. It is as good as it gets. Don’t miss it.
The script of Alright Then was developed by the performers and directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos. Subtle sound design by Christopher Moscatiello and lighting by Matt Richter enhance the performance. Movement and choreography is by Myrna Gawryn, and the stage is managed by Julianne Figueroa. Produced by Marilyn Fox, Sara Newman-Martins and Rachel Berney Needleman, Alright Then runs through March 25 at Pacific Resident Theatre in 703 Venice Blvd in Venice, California.