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GOOD NIGHT, OSCAR - Sean Hayes. Yow.

Not a lot of video on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar.

Too bad.

Paar, the Raw Nerve End of interviewers, is a compelling figure. His ability to put his guests on edge is legion. He was everything Johnny Carson was not, and, according to Paar interviewees, that's a good thing.

Good Night, Oscar is not about Jack Paar, which is also a good thing because the actor playing the former Tonight Show host (Ben Rappaport) is mediocre at best.

Sean Hayes, as the mercurial pianist and frequenter of Los Angeles area rehab facilities IS the show, and makes the most of the sorta titular role.

The production concerns an appearance by Oscar Levant on the Tonight Show. The Liberace-style pianist was a favorite of Paar, and for good reason. Levant, a proverbial loose cannon, had no filter. In his defense, a combination of OCD, Schizophrenia, and Demerol might have something to do with the syndrome of not knowing when to shut up.

But Levant's flaws played into Paar's polarizing style. He would set up his guests (In particular Levant) and trap them in discussions both controversial and hilarious. To quote Paar, "Humor is not harmless. It always costs someone something. If you've ever seen a benign and polite comedian, you've seen a bad one."

Words of wisdom, especially for today.

Levant, booked for this first Hollywood broadcast upon which the play is based (The show was produced out of New York), is in rehab. Actually, he's been committed by his uber-patient wife, June. Now, this is urban myth, but it makes for good theater.

June gets him out on a four hour pass.

The ruse is to see their daughter's graduation.

Which won't happen for another year.

No matter. Levant makes it to the show; is extorted into a performance on the piano (A virtuosic playing of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" by Hayes); and causes an uproar with a joke about Marilyn Monroe and oral sex that triggers an immediate commercial break.

There are a couple lulls in the script. The opening is particularly flat, but as a whole, Good Night, Oscar is an insightful snapshot of Levant's life.

It closes on August 27th.

Belasco Theater.

Worth the schlep.

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