Stage: Wednesday, April 11, 2002

Tim Conway and Harvey Korman obliterate the Vegas curse.

Las Vegas has long been considered an elephant’s graveyard for aging tv stars; standbys of ’70s sitcoms and dramas have staggered there to have their careers die gruesome public deaths. Carcasses that litter the glittering landscape include Telly Savalas and The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Ted Knight, both of whom discovered their opening nights in Las Vegas would also be their closing nights. Various members of the M*A*S*H* cast found stints in Sin City to be far shorter and more brutal than their boob-tube version of the Korean War. Even Carol Burnett, the reigning queen of that long-faded genre known as the variety show, sang and clowned to more than her share of empty seats.

It’s curious, then, that two of her faithful supporting actors from ’70s television have broken the curse by selling out various Vegas showrooms over the past couple of years. You may have thought the extent of Tim Conway’s recent employment was reviving Dorf for furniture store commercials, and that Harvey Korman, who declared with contentment not long ago that he’d “made enough money to give my first wife a comfortable life,” was keeping his appearances limited to regular Young Frankenstein reunions thrown by Mel Brooks. But with their lavishly praised revue Tim Conway and Harvey Korman: Together Again, they’ve brought the variety show back to its live-stage vaudevillian roots with early-20th-century-style sketches, monologues, music, and impersonations. Think of it, too, as revenge of the second bananas: Both performers were given eponymous shows after Burnett’s 11-year run; both disappeared quickly and mercifully. Guest-starring gigs on Suddenly Susan and Diagnosis: Murder could have been pasture-feed for their twilight years — until Together Again became a surprise word-of-mouth smash at the MGM Grand. People are laughing at them — in the good way — once again.

Conway and Korman are hesitant to call the current Vegas departure with dates scattered across the country a “tour,” but clearly this branching out owes much of its momentum to last November’s “Showstoppers,” an unassuming tv reunion of The Carol Burnett Show that pulled in a staggering 29.8 million viewers, the best numbers CBS had racked up for a non-sports broadcast in 10 years. It was a gratifying success for anyone who’d ever enjoyed the tragicomic, pre-Mama’s Family Harpers’ feuds, with Korman the sad sack dimwit trapped between Burnett and lantern-jawed Vicki Lawrence; or Conway, as Mr. Tudball, the boss with the inexplicable accent whose secretary made sharpening a pencil look like an Olympic feat.

Certainly, a tour with this quartet of comic performers would be a dream gift to any Carol Burnett fan. But if recent reviews of Together Again are any indication, this new live show is more than the next best thing. Maybe the stage is the natural place for Conway right now, since the older he’s gotten the more desperate seems his tv hamminess; projected across a theater, that might feel like manic inspiration. The versatile Harvey Korman is less a comic than an actor who creates hilarious characters. Check out his villainously sniveling asylum administrator in Mel Brooks’ underrated High Anxiety, conducting a clandestine affair with Cloris Leachman’s frowning, cone-breasted Nurse Diesel.

Expect a roster of fresh characters in the two-man skits that comprise Together Again, along with monologues that detail the perils of everything from growing old to airplane toilets. This time out, Conway and Korman are the ones who get support, particularly from one Marion DuArt, a comedienne who is exploiting a late-in-life talent for impressions. Her celebrity impersonations are scattered throughout the show; the repertoire includes Judge Judy and Fran Drescher (please, God, not in the same evening) as well as one potential sidesplitter: Katherine Hepburn attempting a new career as a Catskills standup. Given the gray-whiskered nature of the material and age of the performers, you might fear that someone will break a hip onstage after getting sprayed with a seltzer bottle. Reserve your pity. Bass Hall officials say both performances are close to selling out.

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