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‘The Soprano’s Last Supper’

“The Soprano’s Last Supper” is one strange show. And it’s downright surreal to watch it in the company of Steve Schirripa.

It had to be a weird night for Schirripa too, watching someone else (Jim Hitzke) do a parody of his Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri character in the Riviera Comedy Club where it all began for him.

Let’s run quickly through this strange confluence. Years ago, Schirripa worked as the doorman of the club then known as The Improv. He got to know the comedians and eventually convinced hotel management he could book them as easily as Improv head Budd Friedman (who moved his club to Harrah’s Las Vegas).

But then came Schirripa’s really big score, a recurring role on “The Sopranos.” Bobby became one of many pivotal characters to go down in a hail of bullets before the HBO hit’s final, controversial blackout last year.

Meanwhile, “The Soprano’s Last Supper” tried to ride the show’s popularity with a spoofy twist of the interactive, “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” variety. It opened two years ago but found it hard to assert itself in two obscure venues, Krave nightclub and the Empire Ballroom.

The spoof finally landed more on the beaten path in February, shoe-horned into the comedy club as an early-evening attraction. But the producers begged off an official press night until last week, when Schirripa could make a long-promised visit.

The TV Bobby at times had to turn and ask which character an actor was supposed to be. But he liked the way Jon Paul Raniola played Steven Van Zandt’s Silvio Dante: “He don’t sound like him, but he moves like him.” Collectively, Schirripa said of the cast, “They work their asses off.”

This is a diplomatic thing to say when you’re not sure what else to say. It also happens to be true here. The cast works hard to frustrating ends, and at times seems close to really having something.

But “The Soprano’s” (the strategic comma is part of a legal truce with HBO) isn’t sure what it wants to be. It starts out more like a play, but devolves over the next 90 minutes.

Early scenes touch upon keystones of the show: Jersey mob boss Tony (Dean Mauro) at the mailbox in his bathrobe, the gang hanging out at the pork store, Tony discussing mother issues with his shrink (Kelli Karl).

But then the nominal plot veers to a Tony-going-away party where he tries to out the “rat in our midst,” and the show goes schizo.

Losing the natural order of a dinner show — dinner is now an add-on option in a separate restaurant — creates a conflicting agenda. Attempts to sustain the “Sopranos” parody are undermined by frequent song and dance breaks, the characters pulling up audience members to shake it with a live trio and preserve the interactive element.

The scripted portions have become tighter and more to a purpose since the Krave days, but the room’s poor acoustics and primitive public-address system result in many a punch line getting lost or trampled. And the character spoofs lapse into “dese” and “dose” gangster cliches of the Mugsy and Bugsy variety. It’s like spoofing “Lost” with “Gilligan’s Island” jokes.

If “The Sopranos” spoke no deeper to you than wacky goombas, creative cursing and black-comic violence, then you might be cool here with jokes that stall at the crotch-grabbing level. Where does that early Dr. Melfi scene lead? Turns out she gets drunk and turns amateur stripper.

Those who relished the real show’s knack for manipulating stereotype into unpredictable twists will likely lose interest way before the ending, which does attempt a surprise (but doesn’t try to pull a gag from the series-ending blackout).

It turns out Hitzke as Bobby, and Lou Bellamo as Uncle Junior, came the closest to dialing it down to the real show’s level of underplayed humor. Just another twist to a very strange night for Schirripa.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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