BWW Reviews: CABARET XXX Rocks Hard
Cabaret is a dangerous word. If you are going to a performance that's called a cabaret, you don't know what you're going to get. Sometimes you get a rough-cut musical whose book just isn't fully developed. Sometimes you just get a string of vaguely-related pop songs that show off the vocal talents of a group of actors. Then there are those dreaded times when you innocently saunter into a cabaret and you are assaulted with frumpy Germans singing atonally about the horrors of war. So I was a bit apprehensive about going to Pinky Swear Production's Cabaret XXX: Everybody F*cking Dies. I shouldn't have been worried. This cabaret is an epic rock concert, spiced with shticky humor that vibes well with a loose but clear story.
Pinky Swear has a history with Fringe and cabarets which turns out to be relevant to their 2014 offering. Way back in 2011's Fringe Festival, Pinky Swear put on a new cabaret with Cabaret XXX: Les Femmes Fatales starring 3 of the 4 singers in Everybody F*cking Dies: Allyson Harke, Karen Lange, and Toni Rae Brotons. Their show was a breakout success, winning Best Musical at Fringe that year, and that success started a series that has rocked the Baldacchino Tent Bar on New York Avenue for three years running.
From what I understand, since I haven't seen any other iterations of the cabaret, these three ladies used to play themselves in their cabarets, using their own experiences and ad-libbing prowess to create a free-flowing show. Fortunately, you don't need to have seen the previous versions to still enjoy this one. For Everybody F*cking Dies, the ladies don't play themselves; the story, crafted by crazy clever local playwright Stephen Spotswood, is that the ladies have died in a plane crash, and we are at their funeral.
Now the actresses play characters attending the funeral, which is in the form of a cabaret by final bequest written on cocktail napkins. The characters that they create to attend their own funerals are rollicking spoofs: Harke plays her own uptight former lover, Brotons plays her old pseudo-tough high school bully, and Lange plays her own brash Boston-Irish sister. These characters are great avenues for the actresses to poke fun at themselves, and the variety in the characters keep the mood of the cabaret dynamic.
Anderson Wells is a new addition to the cast, playing the funeral director of this cabaret funeral, and he starts the music off with a hand-raising version of Delta Rae's "Bottom of the River." If you've got gospel roots, this incredible cover will run that old church chill up your spine. But the song has that special darkness that lets you know that we are at a funeral and, despite the dildo in a top hat and bowtie fixed to the front of the stage, this show isn't all fun and games. I would go to this show again just for that song.
But that's just the start of the play. Anderson plays the quasi-somber quasi-annoyed funeral director adorably, and he enforces the rule that feelings for the dead exuded onstage at the funeral must be expressed in the form of a song. This rule leads to some beautiful emotional moments from each member of the cast, though some of those moments are covered over by too-loud accompaniment. During the performance I was attending, after one of these moments, a man in the crowd shouted "Turn down the guitar!" at the stage. While I don't recommend shouting at the stage (the man was mercilessly mocked throughout the show by vicious ad-libs from the cast), he wasn't wrong about the volume. The mix is definitely tuned for a rock concert.
I figured out why the band was tuned this way as the show progressed. The arc of the show moves from touching mourning to a driving celebration of what appears to be the last Cabaret XXX in the series. Most of the last 20 minutes of the show are taken up by a fantastic medley containing just about every popular song in modern rock history about death and the afterlife. My only disappointment of the evening was that the medley made me want to jump up and rock out in a mosh pit, but the benches and seats were in the way. I'm surprised the band didn't blow the roof off the Fringe tent with how hard they were rocking out. That said, this show isn't really for those of a delicate aural constitution or a delicate sensibility against raunchiness. This show is loud and raunchy and awesome and this may be your last chance to see the legendary Pinky Swear ladies do their cabaret. Don't miss it.
Cabaret XXX: Everybody F*cking Dies is playing at the Baldacchino Tent Bar at Fort Fringe (607 New York Avenue NW) in DC, near the Mt. Vernon Square Metro. It runs a bit shorter than 75 minutes. You can get tickets at https://www.capitalfringe.org/festival-2014/shows/343-cabaret-xxx-everybody-f-cking-dies.
Graphics are courtesy of the official Capital Fringe Website.