BWW Review: TWAS THE HAPPIEST HOUR BEFORE PRIDE at The Duplex Comes Together for A Good Cause
TWAS THE HAPPIEST HOUR BEFORE PRIDE, a mix of comedy stand-up, ballads, and spoken word poetry, took the stage at The Duplex on June 24 to celebrate NYC Pride and fundraise for a good cause.
The show was produced by Sarah Nedwek, Sarah Kinsey, and Eva Gil of Partly Cloudy People, an organization founded by Nedwek and Philip Chavira. Nedwek and Chavira chose the name because they "believe all people have their dark days, but...artists, can shed light on these times through sharing the experience with others."
Partly Cloudy uses theatre as a means to raise awareness and money for local organizations and projects. Its inaugural HAPPIEST HOUR was in June 2015 right after Marriage Equality was ruled on by the Supreme Court. This most recent show was in partnership with The Ackerman Institute in support of its Gender and Family Project, which promotes gender inclusivity and "empowers youth, families, and communities by providing gender affirmative services, training, and research."
The show was hosted by energetic emcees Tom Picasso and Xavier "Mamma" Rice, accompanied by pianist Brandon Sturiale. The vocal selections were drawn from a broad musical canon, with selections such as "The Stars and the Moon" from SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD (Jason Robert Brown), and "She Used to Be Mine" from WAITRESS (Sara Bareilles).
The Duplex is a quaint venue and director Kelly McCready made smart decisions in terms of the stage plots and usage of space, creating a performance that felt intimate and dynamic, a necessity as the cast performs pieces that are fun and sentimental. Hosts offered playful transitions between sets that served as duets or solo monologues culminating in an all-cast performance.
Rice, the Brooklyn-based cabaret artist known for the late night series MAMMA RICE N' FRIENDS at Public Assembly, was an exceptional host who arranged a dazzling rendition of the blues standard "Tain't Nobody's Business" by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins (made famous with recordings from Jimmy Witherspoon, as well as Bessie Smith and many classic female blues singers).
The inclusion of spoken word poetry and solo theatre monologues created space for deeply personal testimonial. According to the Partly Cloudy founders, they gave all artists full ownership of what they wanted to share. For example, poet David Huynh performed a stunning original spoken word poem about Vietnamese Pride and how his parents met. Vocalist Tricia Alexandro performed an original monologue about pink pussy hats, and Nedwek performed an original monologue, "My Son, Henry," about a parent's transition with her transgender son.
Diversity in theatre is an ongoing issue and one that Partly Cloudy seems to be interested in solving. The diversity in terms of age, race, cultural identities, and connection to the LGBTQIA community, in both the cast and creative teams, added an element of authenticity to the performance. The cast appeared comfortable with each other, and it felt like we were watching a group friends onstage together who happened to be extremely talented.
In an interview with Newdek, she discussed the goals of HAPPIEST HOUR. "Art allows a group of people, who may share vastly different views to sit in a room and have a collective experience, independent of party affiliation. It can create a forum for dialogue, which is the best place to start."
TWAS THE HAPPIEST HOUR BEFORE PRIDE, a special edition to the month of Pride, is must-see cabaret in New York City, successful in bringing together a dynamic cause, exciting and raising money for a good cause.
Jamara Wakefield is a performing arts and culture writer based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @JamaraNYC.