So I guess the most important question in reviewing Bellevue’s completely improvised episode of Seinfeld is “Did they pull it off?” Quite simply, the answer is “yes.” But you’ll probably want a bit more information than that.
It’s a bold move for any group of performers to try to recreate the humor and the feel of any popular show. Productions that return to a beloved television property can often collapse under the weight of the originals, go completely ignored, and at worst cheapen a treasured piece of entertainment. The stakes are obviously higher when dealing with a show like Seinfeld. Incredibly, Bellevue manages to create something that feels fresh, while at the same time remaining true to the classic sitcom. Since every performance is made up on the spot, and no two shows are supposed to be the same, I’ll tell you what happened the night I saw Bellevue.
Like every episode of Seinfeld that came before, the show starts as Jerry (played by Noah Forman) takes the stage for a short set of observational stand-up. After taking a suggestion from the audience (On this night, it was “Waffles.”) Forman begins to riff on the breakfast food. He declares the waffle to be superior to the pancake (true) and attributes the success of the waffle to its many compartments, which he explains are called “nooks and crannies.” Knowing that Seinfeld isn’t Seinfeld without the goofy little bass lines, the performers beatbox these musical cues when it comes time to end a scene and keep the show moving. After the stand-up set, the cast begins to introduce the three storylines based on Forman’s opening jokes that will weave throughout the show. So what Seinfeld plots did we get from waffles?
Well, George Costanza (played by Dru Johnston) is having a breakfast dilemma at work. He has an early morning meeting and the client he’s meeting with is a “sweet breakfast” guy. George can’t handle sweet breakfasts. He’s a savory man, and the character’s neurosis is on full display. Jerry doesn’t see the problem, but George informs him that the first rule of business is matching the other person. Together, the two find a solution: George must order first, forcing the other man to match his breakfast request. It’s a very Sun Tzu moment that feels like it was part of an old episode of Seinfeld that you’ve forgotten.
In the next scene, we learn that Kramer (played by Michael Antonucci) is planning to harvest maple syrup from the trees in Central Park. That sounds about right.
Our third storyline revolves around Elaine (Cathryn Mudon) who claims that she was slighted by the clerk at a makeup counter who recommended a few products to hide her wrinkles, which are referred to as “nooks and crannies.” This is a pretty clever call-back, which also saves the show from being completely breakfast-centric.
Now, Mudon is a dead-on Elaine. She looks, sounds, and behaves in exactly the same fashion as the character she is portraying. Johnston also does a pretty good George, but for the most part the performers aren’t trying to serve as sound-alikes to the original characters. Instead, they match the cadence, the rhythm, and the mannerisms of the Seinfeld cast, which is more important than anything else.
As the show goes on, Bellevue must now deal with developing these plots and tying them all up at the end. They have to be thinking chess, not checkers. There are a few moments of silence when you can feel the gears turning in the performers’ heads, and you think, “Oh no, this is it. This whole thing is about to fall apart, and I have to watch it.” But then someone delivers a line — and then another and another. The jokes land more than they fizzle, and by the end you realize they’ve done it. The group on the stage has given you and everyone else in the audience your own episode of Seinfeld. It’s not the best, and it’s not the worst. It’s just yours. And that’s really what the show is about.