What the critics had to say about "If you ever leave me's" New York run:

Neil Simon might have created this pair"

  -- The New York Times 

"The gaudiest anniversary present ever opened on Broadway!"
-- The Wall Street Journal

"The audience was screaming with laughter!"
-- WOR Radio

This is high-grade vaudeville!"

-- New York Post

Friday, February 16, 2001

By NANCY STETSON, nstetson@naplesnews.com

Actors Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna presented a wonderful Valentine to Southwest Florida on Wednesday night: two hours of almost non-stop laughter.

The husband and wife, who are veteran actors of television, theater and the silver screen, presented "If You Ever Leave Me ... I'm Going With You" at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers.

This two-person play about their 35-year marriage is a hilarious collage of monologues, stand-up, TV and movie clips, home movies and scenes from various Broadway plays they've written, including "Acts of Love and Other Comedies," "Bermuda Avenue Triangle" and "Bedrooms."

The evening began with clips of various famous people introducing the couple: the late Steve Allen, a babyfaced David Letterman, a much younger, darker-haired Milton Berle and the great Sid Caesar, who played with their names like someone trying to pronounce never- before-seen words in a foreign language.

The couple walked on stage to warm applause. "Don't get up," Taylor quipped in her nasal Bronx voice that so many know from her role as Sylvia Fine, Fran Drescher's mother on TV's "The Nanny."

The title of the show comes from a fight the two had early in their marriage. Taylor became so upset with Bologna that she said, "Pack your things! Get out!" So Bologna started packing. Then Taylor began packing too.

"What the hell are you doing?" he asked.

"If you ever leave me, I'm going with you," she explained.

The two have been together for 35 years, working out their relationship, and have also renewed their vows four or five times.

Taylor and Bologna talked about how they met, and how no one thought their relationship would last: they were both actors, he had a fear of commitment, she was from the Bronx and he was from Brooklyn, he was Italian Catholic and she was Jewish. They even had their wedding reception on the Merv Griffin show, so all the relatives would be on their best behavior on national television and get along. (Later in the evening they showed a funny black- and-white clip from the show — relatives singing or playing music, a woman explaining in convoluted terms how everyone is related.)

Bologna and Taylor explained how much of their material is autobiographical, and performed a few scenes from various Broadway plays they'd written to demonstrate how things — kinda — happened in their relationship.

The first scene showed Taylor auditioning for a commercial. She meets Bologna after the disastrous audition and the two begin talking. "I went out to Hollywood — no one sent for me," she tells him. "I was going to be a sex symbol, but I had a late start."

Bologna, however, sees something special in her. "You have a very nutty, original talent," he says. And he hits the nail on the head.

But Bologna has his own original talent, too. And in a later sketch, he displayed his skill as he took almost a full minute to make a decision and tell his wife whether he wanted the pullover sweater or the cardigan. You could see the indecision on his face, how he weighed the choices, almost making a decision and then no, pulling back and thinking maybe he should make the opposite choice.

This was comedic acting at its best, with characters who endear themselves to us while simultaneously frustrating us and making us laugh. This is classic comedy, the kind Sid Caesar wrote, highlighting the absurdity of human interactions.

Because the two have lived together and worked together for so many years, they're in perfect sync with each other, but the laughter they produce comes from their immense talent as well. And part of that talent is making it look so easy.

The two talked about their families. Bologna talked about his father, who initially disliked Renee, and Taylor talked about her mother, who was into astrology and past lives. At one point, Taylor recounts how she went to her mother's past-life group. Her mom introduced people as, "This is Mr. Rosenberg; the former duke of Romania." Everyone had been royalty in a past life. So Taylor asked her mom, "Everyone's been a duke or a countess in a former life. What about the plumbers, the carpenters?"

And her mother replied, "They're welcome, but would they fit in?"

The couple showed clips from their various weddings (they like to renew their vows). One had me absolutely doubled over with laughter. It was the moment in the ceremony where the bride and groom make personal statements to each other. Bologna goes first. Then when it's Taylor's turn, she's crying, moved by what her husband has said. She begins talking, but starts wiping her tears away. But she's wearing so much mascara that in reality, she's smearing it all over her face. The more she talks, the more she cries, and the more mascara she smears, until it looks as though she has a huge black eye.

"If You Ever Leave Me ... I'm Going With You" moves to Broadway in July; it's great that we were able to see it in Southwest Florida first.

Initially, I was scared it would be too corny or schmaltzy, going for the easy laughs, but this was a quality show with substance and depth. And it was wonderful to have my funny bone tickled so much.

The audience felt the same; throughout the evening, there were waves of belly laughs continually rolling across the rows of the theater. At the end, we gave them a standing ovation. And what better way to spend Valentine's Day, but laughing with a wonderful, talented couple who have been together for 35 years?


Review: 'If You Ever Leave' is fine company

Special to The News Journal

At the start of "If You Ever Leave Me ... I'm Going With You," Renée Taylor tells us the title refers to a threat she made after a fight with husband Joseph Bologna during which she demanded he leave. After 90 minutes or so with this pair, you can easily see why she'd issue such a challenge; it seems clear they live for each other. Not being together would be out of the question.

Though they've both had success outside the partnership, their enjoyment with one another is evident from the moment they step on stage. And though they may have gone through the routines we see hundreds, even thousands of times during the course of their 37-year marriage, they manage to keep them fresh and funny. They spread every bit as much enjoyment as they share.

"If You Ever Leave Me" is a curious pastiche that turns out to be more than the sum of its parts. It includes scenes from plays the pair have written together, storytelling about themselves and, especially, their families, and even home movies, including a clip from the 1965 Merv Griffin show during which they were married before a national audience.

They've mastered the fine art of making marital strife a laughing matter. In all the cuttings we see from their plays, conflict abounds, and they manage to make the most of it.

The evening is most successful during these mini-plays, which include scenes from "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Acts of Love and Other Comedies," among others.

Bologna has a very easy way with his characters, and since it seems plain that their inner turmoil springs from his own torments, they have a way of ringing both true and very funny. Taylor brings a delightful ditsiness to many of her characters without ever insulting them.

Bologna and Taylor co-wrote and co-directed "If You Ever Leave Me," and they have perfect pace. They're such good company that if they ever left us, we'd want to go with them.

Leo Irwin is a Wilmington free-lance writer.


Posted on Tue, Feb. 11, 2003

Long love enters next stage

By Douglas J. Keating
Inquirer Theater Critic

WILMINGTON - Years ago during a quarrel, Joseph Bologna threatened to walk out on his wife, Renée Taylor. She replied, "If you ever leave me, I'm going with you."

She didn't have to. Bologna didn't leave, then or ever. The couple have been wed for 37 years, and at the moment you'll find them on the stage of the Playhouse Theatre, where, in a show that takes its title from Taylor's response, Bologna and Taylor talk about their almost four decades of marriage and concurrent careers in show business.

Bologna and Taylor are accomplished writers and performers of comedy, and this show is humorously written and performed. Previously, they have collaborated on and acted together in light, witty pieces about stages of male-female relationships. These include the play (and later film) Lovers and Other Strangers, the movie It Had To Be You, and TV special Acts of Love and Other Comedies, all intended to entertain rather than probe deeply into personality or meaning. In this regard, If You Ever Leave Me... is a typical Bologna and Taylor show, except that the characters are specifically themselves.

Those earlier shows figure prominently in the new piece, which the couple presented on Broadway and are touring throughout the country. Bologna and Taylor talk about how they met, how much they argue, how they might be when they are old - then act out a scene from one of their previous shows that illustrates the subject under discussion. The performance pieces are sharply written. Bologna and Taylor, though a bit old for some of the scenes, not surprisingly have a real feel for the material and play off each other well.

Some aspects of their life together are less humorous than the couple seem to think they are, but Bologna and Taylor are personable guides through their positive account - if there were rough patches, don't look for them here. They emphasize their mixed religious and ethnic backgrounds - he's Italian Catholic, she's Jewish - and their penchant for periodically renewing their wedding vows in lavish ceremonies in different religious faiths.

Film clips of these ceremonies and their original 1965 wedding on The Merv Griffin Show are fun to watch - but are especially entertaining to fans of the show biz couple, as is the rest of this self-penned tribute.

TECH RIDER (for confirmed bookings)