Mar. 6: Bill Dyszel

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Bill Dyszel

The Internet Ate My Brain

March 6 @ 4 pm

Don’t Tell Mama
343 W. 46th St., NYC


Bill-Dyszel-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Here’s Victoria Ordin’s review of this show:

Just before Bill Dyszel took the stage at Don’t Tell Mama to perform The Internet Ate My Brain, his ever-evolving Broadway World-nominated show, the announcer informed the audience that “the Patti LuPone rule” was not in effect. This was, of course, a reference to the Broadway legend’s much-publicized confrontation with an audience member texting during a recent performance (from an orchestra seat, no less). A combination of original songs and parodies (written by Dyszel)—complete with power point!—Dyszel’s show explores how radically technology, smart phones, and social media have transformed human experience.
The Internet Ate My Brain is that rare “message” show that manages to provoke thought without preaching or rehashing platitudes. And that message is roughly this: there’s no going back to life without the Internet, but we can retain our humanity and connection to one another if we acknowledge just how deeply the “internet of things” shapes consciousness and action, and commit to disconnect every so often. Pretty heady stuff for a cabaret show. But when not singing with the New York City Opera (where Dyszel spent 14 years), he authored 21 books about technology, including Microsoft Outlook for Dummies. He also contributes regularly to PC Magazine. Somewhere in all of this, the performer found time to produce over 60 short films, many of which have been screened at the 48-Hour Film Project, an international filmmaking competition. (This explains the video snippets throughout the show, some of which work better than others.)
After the opening song, from which the show takes its title, the performer gently poked fun at society’s obsession with selfies in a song based on “Alfie” (Bacharach/David). As one who wrote a qualified defense of selfies for The Huffington Post, I found Dyszel’s tone just right. Yes, they’re silly, but they aren’t cause for full-throated outrage—nor are all selfies created equal, as his lyrics make clear.
With audience members nodding in self-recognition at our shared plight—cell phone addiction—Dyszel asked us to put our phones just out of reach and then to share with our tablemates (“lab partners,” in his words) the feelings evoked by that separation and text him the answer. He offered a prize in the form of a snazzy, bright, yellow tote bag to encourage participation.
Gimmicky, yes. But this and other interactive moments of the show were sweet, funny, and apt set-ups for the numbers which followed. One could hear his formal voice training both in “Google, Facebook, and Bing,” based on “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” from Kismet (Wright/Forrest, based on Borodin) and “Amazon” to the tune of “Camelot,” perhaps the evening’s best number. Like Camelot, Amazon exists in an unspecified location and operates like a kingdom. The main difference: Richard Burton does not star in a musical about Bezos’ empire. Ably accompanied on the piano by Richard Danley—who appeared to be enjoying himself as much as the audience and the star himself—Dyszel took up other staples of life in the internet: Google (“Dr. Google,” based on Pat Ballard’s “Mr. Sandman”), GPS (“Top Secret Love,” based on Sammy Fain/Paul Francis Webster’s “Secret Love” from Calamity Jane), and nonstop disaster coverage (Dyszel’s own “The Techno Porn Tango”).
Based on “Ode to Joy,” the “Freelance National Anthem” pulled no punches about the new professional normal, one might say, in which security and employment have gone the way of rotary phones. It was the darkest number in the mostly upbeat show, a foil to “Geeks and Dorks” (lovingly written, of course, by a man with 21 books about tech to his name!). Dyszel is so fundamentally good-natured and self-deprecating, even the plug for his award is entertaining. The former opera singer and techie has written a smart and timely show based on a simple truth: those of us over 45 are members of an ever-shrinking (read: dying) population who can remember life pre-Google. Our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will never live in a world without instant communication and consumption. In the face of this inexorable fact, Dyszel retains a tentative hope for humanity, a hope in which live performance plays no small part. (On a personal note, I recently endured 28 days without WiFi, and my phone is regularly at 5% charge, so as much as my life revolves around social media, I don’t actually panic when separated from my phone. It’s dead half the day anyway. If I can live without WiFi a month, there is hope for us all.)