BWW Reviews: Hit From Capital Fringe, DISCO JESUS AND THE APOSTLES OF FUNK, Returns and Wows at fallFRINGE
A welcomed feature of the DC theatre fall season in recent years has been 'fallFringe' - an opportunity for theatregoers to see a Fringe hit they might have missed in the summer, see a previously successful show again, or catch a new piece by an artist affiliated with the popular festival.
Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk played to sold out crowds this past summer in DC and, judging from this return engagement, it's pretty easy to understand why. Perhaps a rarity among Fringe musicals, particularly in DC, this production features a universally strong cast of mostly professional caliber singers and musicians who stand ready to rock out with flair and polish.
While Vaughn Irving's book might not be the most original ever - in fact it's pretty formulaic and predictable - a set of strong songs (also featuring Irving's lyrics), tinged with gospel, soul, funk, and pop, and a hugely committed cast, make it easy to overlook it and just concentrate on the fact that it's all in good fun.
Part concert, part book musical (with Diddy, smoothly played by Oghene-Bruru Ajueyitsi, serving as an emcee or sorts) we follow the tale of Mary (Felicia Curry) - and no, not the Biblical one. She's your average bartender that's pretty unhappy in her job. When she finds herself fired and considers where to go next, she meanders (perhaps not by chance alone) into a music club that changes her path. A brief glimpse of the 70s-inspired band 'Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk' and an encounter with its front man, Jesus (the charismatic Vaughn Irving), and Mary suddenly finds herself in the band. Band drama predictably ensues when Mary joins the groups and steps unknowingly into a bit of a minefield as she quickly learns about the ins and outs of the band and the connections between the members. Yet, through it all, eventually Mary finds her voice and faith in herself.
DC theatre regular Felicia Curry, it should come as no surprise, is reason enough to see this show. Paul Foreman and Vaughn Irving's music is perfectly suited to her sultry, powerful vocals. Curry proves adept at handling a variety of music styles, but is perhaps at her best as she takes on the anthem-like "The Way." Solid vocal technique and equally resonant emotions make this song a highlight.
Yet, Curry is not the only one who stands out. This production, directed by Doug Wilder, is unique in that every cast member (whether instrumentalist, vocalist, or both) embodies a specific character at every moment. The members of the six-piece band (Alex Aucoin on drums, Jason Wilson on bass, Matthew Schleigh on guitar, Liz Dutton on keyboard, Suzanne Edgar on saxophone, and music director Steve Przbyliski on trumpet) each have a bit of an acting and/or singing job. While some fare better than others when stepping away from their instruments - Suzanne Edgar in particular - one has to give kudos to them all for the eager multi-tasking. Vocalists Autumn Seavey Hicks and Kedren Spencer - playing members of the Disco Jesus band as well as several other incidental characters - also bring a good degree of sass and spunk to the proceedings.
As good as Curry is when the spotlight shines on her, the ensemble singing is what also sets this show apart from what one generally finds in Fringe musicals. From the funky "Disco Jesus Theme" to a unique take on "Jesus Love Me" and the pop-like "Is This It?" (perhaps one of the most contemporary musical theatre-like songs of the bunch), each piece is sung quite well and with infectious energy.
Colorful and setting appropriate costumes (Wendy Snow Walker) as well as commendable lighting design (Paul Callahan) heighten the playful, party-like mood the piece.
It's a party indeed.
Running Time: 80 minutes.
Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk has six more performances through November 14, 2013 in this year's fallFRINGE. For further details and tickets, consult the Fringe website.
Graphic: Courtesy of Capital Fringe Website.