Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: MISCAST, A Marvelous Evening of Great Vocals and Kooky Comedy

The mark of a good cabaret song is its ability to hook you with its story and a good cabaret singer always knows how to work that song and draw the audience in. MISCAST: Right Singer, Wrong Song, produced by Mandy Kaplan, is a series of hour-long cabaret shows full of standard music theatre songs that tell new stories with their unique spins on the traditional, allowing the audience to appreciate them in a whole different light. Performances feature a rotating cast and take place every couple of months at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal with Kaplan acting as host.

For the latest MISCAST on Monday, October 20, it was a night of high comedy and plenty of laughs as ten singers performed a variety of songs they wouldn’t normally get to sing. Few among this bunch would ever be cast in The Book of Mormon so their spunky version of “Hello” from the show was a fun and fitting opening. From there the set list moved to a series of solos, duets and trios that highlighted each singer’s individual sense of humor.

Alex Mohajer introduced what he said would be something light to start the evening off, but it turned out to be anything but as he morphed into Barbra Streisand singing her eleven o’clock number from the movie Yentl, “Piece of Sky.” Becoming increasingly more manic and touched with Streisand’s signature affectations, he nailed the comedy and also the extremely long high note at the end with all the drama only a true diva can provide.

Justin Michael Wilcox and Kaplan offered a great spin on Kristin Chenoweth’s famous “Taylor the Latte Boy” with two versions, each from a different point of view. Wilcox sang it Kristin style the first time, as the girl secretly in love with the boy who makes her lattes, and then Kaplan did it again, this time as the coffee boy singing about the crazy girl who comes in and stalks him. Rewriting some of the lyrics to play up the gender switch, Kaplan referred to Wilcox as “Kristin, the sucker chick” and created a character that was completely believable within this scenario. Another plus for this section of the show was getting to hear Wilcox’s exceptional tenor voice, one of the loveliest of the night.

Thomas Threats said that while he’d never been French or a prostitute, it wasn’t going to stop him from singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables. Planned interruptions by crying, adoring fans, including one calling in via cell phone, spoofed some other well-known singers who have taken on the role previously. Likewise, Tom Metz III will never be a 13-year old redhead with curly hair but he put his own comic twist on “Tomorrow” from Annie, which quickly turned threatening, as he gave advice to Wilcox, who was pining over his “boyfriend” from Starbucks who had mysteriously transferred to another location (referencing his earlier Taylor the Latte Boy sequence).

“Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from Showboat, originally sung by a woman who is half black and half white was sung by Ewan Chung, an Asian man who insisted that torch songs weren’t only for the ladies. Chung and Kaplan also switched genders and ethnicities for “Sarah Brown Eyes” from Ragtime, which was originally sung by Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Chung and Kaplan’s version featured strong vocals and an amusing dance break full of choreography through the ages that was all kinds of silly fun.

Ladies choice found two singers dialing it back to the ‘60s with Mary Jo Mundy turning into the sadistic Orin Scrivello from Little Shop of Horrors for “The Dentist” and Stephanie Anderson (with back-up girls Kaplan and Rosoff) channeling her inner teenager for “I Can Hear the Bells” from Hairspray, while Wendy Rosoff took on Sondheim, singing all three vocal parts in his tricky trio “Getting Married” from Company. The rapid-fire patter in this particular song can make a singer crazy and Rosoff made it look easy. From the back of the room I could understand every word and that is quite an accomplishment.

But the MVP award for this round of MISCAST goes to JP Karliak for his 5-minute tour-de-force performance of the entire score of Evita in which he brought to life one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most passionate divas -- white gloves, death scene, iconic poses and all. I’ve never seen him perform before so I don’t know if he regularly encapsulates musicals in this manner but there’s an entire floorshow in there just waiting to bust out and I hope he puts it together because he was hilarious!

Kaplan makes a charming host for the fast-paced, comedy-rich evening and musical director Kathryn Lounsberry brings out the best in all of the singers with her great arrangements. Final answer: MISCAST is for you if you like it fast, funny, and full of surprises. Next show is January 25, 2015 so mark your calendar now.

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