BY CLIVE BARNES (New York Post)
November 18, 2004 -- TWENTY years ago, a young and unknown comedian with the unlikely name of Whoopi Goldberg stormed Broadway, vastly assisted by superstar director Mike Nichols.
Last night at the Lyceum Theatre, an older, possibly wiser and certainly very much better-known Whoopi returned to retrace those fledgling steps. Happily, she didn't trip.
A lot has happened to her over the past two decades, and it shows.
What remains totally unchanged is her levitating gift for spontaneity: She creates her own reality moment from moment.
At the start, she announces that there is no invisible fourth wall in her kind of theater she addresses her audience face to face, often talking directly to innocent, or nearly innocent, patrons.
(Audience advisory: Unless you're as tough as crocodile hide, don't come late or, if you're really late, cut your losses and just go home.)
In the grand old stand-up tradition, Whoopi taunts offenders mercilessly, with humorous but scathing mockery. You might find yourself agreeing with her when at the end of a gentle tantrum she suggests, "The only time you want to come late is in bed."
It's typical of a theatrical approach that raises off-the-cuff naturalness to an almost uncanny level of audience intimacy.
Her entire performance is acting that is brilliant in its sense of identification and commitment, and she constantly displays a geniality that could disarm even the fiercest of her political opponents.
The first segment of her intermissionless show is forthrightly (actually, forth-leftly) political: a blue activist addressing a very blue audience in the bluest city in the nation.
As Fontaine a dope fiend and college professor she's played before she typically muses, "If Jesus came down today, he wouldn't be able to get into the United States."
Then, politics tucked neatly away, she moves on to another of her characters, Lurleen, and her torrent-of-consciousness riffs on a middle-aged woman facing menopause.
Waggling a fan like an out-of-control rudder, Lurleen announces, "I sweat, sweat . . . I could drown somebody."
From there, she's on to the trials and tribulations of aging. Inspired by "Sex and the City," Lurleen decides, with predictably disastrous results, to get a bikini wax.
From then on, it's only a small step to contemplating Botox and the dire possibilities of "needles in my face to freeze it."
Whoopi takes on a few other characters, including a sweet-natured paraplegic unexpectedly finding sexual love.
Finally, in a tour de force, she repeats her celebrated Valley Girl sketch of 20 years ago: a 14-year-old who finds herself pregnant and tries to terminate the pregnancy, horrifically, with a metal coat hanger.
Now the 20 years fall off the woman as if they were a cloak, and Whoopi seems exactly as she was on our first encounter with that strange, unique talent. Whoopi, indeed!