First Nighter: Jim Parsons is God in An Act of God , Robert Creighton is James Cagney in Cagney

Jim Parsons, adored for his appearances as Sheldon Lee Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, is now appearing at Studio 54 (although it's not a Studio 54 production) as the Supreme Being, though there's a catch.

An Act of God is the idea -- a cute one, at that -- from David Javerbaum, who's tweaking his The Last Testament: Memoir by God (not to be confused with Avery Corman's Oh, God!). In this incarnation, however, the creator appears in human form as none other than Jim Parsons. In that guise, he's arrived to inform the world about an update of the 10 Commandments.

So there God is, looking exactly like Jim Parsons but in a toga-like white-trimmed-with-gold shmatte evidently designed by David Zinn. He's emerged from an opening at the top of a staircase down which he walks--this is after all sorts of bursts of celestial light that Peter Nigrini projections -- to sit (rarely rising) on a long white sofa, dispense his Commandments revisions and explain the reasons behind them.

The new ones won't be itemized here, except to say that the first is a "holdover" from the original 10, and the second is "That shalt not tell others whom to fornicate." Also be informed that the tenth is kind of wonderful. It indicates that beneath Javerbaum's notions of fun simmers an outlook on life that would gratify Norman Vincent Peale and his tubthumping for positive thinking.

The second one is, it shouldn't be necessarily to point out, a sign of the irreverent nature of Javerbaum's approach. His main concern is keeping the customers laughing, which he does, as greatly aided by Parsons. Just as day follows night according to God's design, the one-liners flow.

I can't say they had me laughing out loud non-stop, although I can say they had many people around me (major Parsons fans?) busting their guts. Still, I kept smiling throughout. I did laugh at one ad hominem gag (about Donald Trump) and two ad femina gags (about Patti LuPone and Sarah Palin). (That admission may say more about me than it does about Javerbaum.) My guess is that if and when the above-targeted see the show, LuPone will like what she hears. Trump and Palin won't. And, yes, there's a Kardashian joke, but when isn't there?

No question that in designating God as inhabiting Jim Parsons for the purpose of this appearance, the enterprise is intended as a vehicle for the comic actor -- even though the sofa on which he perches never moves. The fun of it for Parsons is that, though he's certainly acting, he's also appearing as himself and therefore in some ironic manner doesn't have to act. This isn't the same sort of stage assignment as his last couple in Broadway's Harvey revival and off-Broadway's and Broadway's Normal Heart revival. (Hearty thanks from theater lovers for his dedication to regular live appearances.)

An Act of God does raise a question about others who might assume God's smock in subsequent productions. Say Martin Short is asked to take on the shimmering robe. Will God then be appearing as Martin Short? Or will Martin Short be appearing as God appearing as Jim Parsons? Or is the property exclusively reserved for Parsons to take wherever he chooses whenever he chooses?

Never mind. Directed by the indefatigable Joe Mantello, Parsons is obviously having a great time playing the Deity, issuing his commandment changes and occasionally aiming wrathful punishment courtesy of lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, sound designer Fitz Patton, special effects designer Gregory Meeh and illusion consultant Paul Kieve. He's noticeably basking in a conceit that presents him to his public as both himself and the Greatest Significant Other there is. (By the way, God does admit he has a problem with "wrath management.")

Be aware that God/Parsons isn't alone within the proscenium. He's attended by two archangels, Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Gabriel (Tim Kazurinsky), who are constant delights in their white blazers adorned with substantial wings. Always adorable Fitzgerald (never forget his Og in the last Finian's Rainbow revival) is charged with, among other things, circulating through the audience for (rigged) questions of God. He's also the one who himself challenges God with tough queries and at least once receives harsh response for his effrontery. Kazurinsky spends his time reading from a Bible placed on a stand.

Since the mid-20th century when "Is God Dead?" became a gnawing question by way of late 19th-century Friedrich Nietzsche's writings, the reality of God has become a handy satirical target. Here he is, once again prompting the "Is God Dead?" query. Looks as if he's not dead at the moment. He's alive and lodged amusingly in Jim Parsons.


While Robert Creighton was boning up on his craft at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (lovingly known as AMDA), a teacher noted a resemblance to James Cagney.

That was enough to get the now-always-reliable Broadway regular obsessed with the iconic Warner Brothers star, the eventual result being Cagney, at the York Theatre, a musical he's worked on for some time and, while still open for some improvement, nevertheless provides much solid entertainment.

Like any number of celebrity stage bios, it taps through Cagney's life as rapidly as the Eastside New York born-and-raised actor hoofed his Oscar-winning Yankee Doodle Dandy flick, this one a screen bio of George M. Cohan.

Along the way from angry underpaid laborer to top-of-the-celluloid-world (to paraphrase one of his famous lines) movie figure, a major emphasis is on his love-hate relationship with typically tyrannical studio head Jack Warner (Bruce Sabath). The two meet again after long estrangement in Creighton's framing device: At Cagney's 1978 Scene Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award evening.

Besides an act-two opening sequence concerning Cagney's early 1940s questioning by the Dies Commission about his possible Communist Party affiliation, the narrative sticks to the man's vaudeville days during which he met and married Willard, known as Winnie (Ellen Zolezzi), and his career as the screen's number-one public enemy.

The musical's elements include a score by Creighton and Christopher McGovern that's appealing as it passes (with some quite clever lyrics) but ultimately doesn't stick like glue. The dancing, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, is hot, particularly a challenge tap dance Creighton pulls off beautifully with Jeremy Benton as Bob Hope, whom he doesn't begin to look like.

Incidentally, the songs that adhere -- because they have for close to 100 years -- are Cohan ditties that the cast members (Danette Holden as Ma Cagney, Josh Walden also on hand and hoof) warble in the Yankee doodle Dandy segments.