MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ "Should some apocalyptic disaster befall the earth," a theater critic once memorably wrote, "all that would remain would be cockroaches, gulls and 'Triple Espresso.'"
Well, make that roaches and gulls.
"Triple Espresso," the so-called "highly caffeinated comedy" that has run for 12 years in Minneapolis and been spun off to about 40 cities around the United States, is set to close April 27. Finally.
And the producer and stars of the show, which claims to have been seen by some 1.6 million people, say they mean it — even if they do hold out hope for reunion shows.
"We'll miss it, but it's not going away. It's not like it's been put up on a shelf forever," producer Dennis Babcock said.
Ticket sales to the popular show have declined, although a box-office surge when the closing was announced prompted a two-week extension.
"It's important to be able to know when to close up shop before you lose everything. It would sure sour the experience if we left with a huge, huge deficit," said Michael Pearce Donley, who plays off-key lounge singer Hugh Butternut.
Donley and his co-writers — Bill Arnold (who plays stumbling magician Buzz Maxwell) and Bob Stromberg (smiling comedian Billy Bean) — set out to create the funniest show ever when they dreamed up "Triple Espresso" over coffee and pancakes in 1995. The two-act play is about three hapless entertainers reuniting 25 years after a gig gone horribly wrong.
"Is it the funniest show in America? I have no idea. But I know I stand before people every night and they're laughing big and they're laughing considerably throughout the show," Donley says.
"Triple Espresso" opened in 1996 as part of the old Cricket Theatre's final season in Minneapolis. When the Cricket moved out of the Music Box Theatre — a 438-seat theater near downtown Minneapolis — "Triple Espresso" moved in and stayed for a run totaling more than 3,000 shows seen by 376,000 people.
Annual ticket sales at the Minneapolis production have held between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, said Babcock. At one time, there were six simultaneous "Triple Espresso" shows — one in Dublin, Ireland, and five in the United States, he said.
But the worsening U.S. economy has cut into ticket sales for all kinds of shows.
"If you're at the point where you have to choose between gas and food for your table — or going to a play — that's a no-brainer," Babcock said.
All the theaters in the Twin Cities benefit by having a show that becomes an attraction, said Michael Brindisi, artistic director of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, where the musical "I Do, I Do" ran 22½ years with the original two cast members.
"I think it tends to bring in the first-time theatergoer — someone who might not even go to a play," he said.
"Triple Espresso" has played to more than 1.6 million people around the globe. It's been translated into German and Flemish and appeared in about 40 cities in the United States, grossing about $43 million since it opened, Babcock said. The show closed in San Diego in February after an 11-year run, but is opened a short run in Atlanta on March 27 and will return to Milwaukee and Des Moines, Iowa, this fall before opening next year in Phoenix, Babcock said.
But Babcock said the two-week extension is the final one for the Minneapolis show. (Twin Cities alternative weekly City Pages made the cockroaches and gulls crack in 2002 but went on to call the show "about as much fun as can be had in a theater in the Twin Cities.")
Babcock and the cast members credit the family appeal of "Triple Espresso" for its long run and repeat business.
"We wanted everything to be squeaky clean. Families could bring kids and feel really blessed," said comedian Stromberg, 55, who returns to the cast for the first two weeks of April after leaving the show two years ago.
Stromberg said he and his fellow actors tried to make the theatergoer who was sitting in the front row with arms folded — the guy who obviously didn't want to be there — laugh until tears would flow. And the actors make a point of standing in the lobby after every show to greet theatergoers.
Arnold, a skilled magician who appears bumbling in his role, said the show never had a school for its replacement casts.
"It's more like Navy SEAL training," said Arnold, 50. "We did have a level of quality, what we were asking these guys to learn and get proficient in, that was really pushing their envelope and they would sometimes emotionally tank."
And when the three original cast members work, Arnold said, it's a "magic carpet ride, because we take people somewhere they've never been before."
Donley — at 43 the youngest cast member — said he'll miss the grind of "Triple Espresso."
"I can't think of anything I've done more times than 'Triple Espresso,' except maybe basic bodily functions," Donley said. "Obviously, it's going to leave a very big hole."
On the Net:
Triple Espresso: http://www.tripleespresso.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.