Be forewarned: There is an anonymous masked male streaker interrupting the show and running through the audience in the middle of Cabaret Oldtown’s “Streakin’: A Musical Flashback to the 1970s.”
But you have to look quick. (He’s fast.) And he does wears a strategically placed sign to cover his “shortcomings,” as David Niven quipped when confronted with the same thing during that fateful 1974 live Oscar telecast.
But the moment provides a quick and easy guffaw — as well as a nostalgia tweak — for this show, by James Rocco and Albert Evans. It was workshopped at Cabaret in 2000 and transferred to Off-Broadway in 2003 before coming back to Cabaret now to celebrate the start of the theater’s 20th season in downtown Wichita.
The show is a wild and wacky blend of music and comedy, celebrating and lampooning the excesses of the “Me Decade” full of mirror disco balls, smiley faces, polyester fashions, mile-high platform shoes, big hair and fast-disappearing Partridge/Brady family values. Like that decade, this production has its highs and lows — music that soars and touches the heart and some comedy bits that just fall flat. It’s a mixed bag, but a mostly enjoyable one.
Directed by Cabaret co-owner Christi Moore, who appeared in the Off-Broadway run and is reprising her efforts in seven different roles, the show boasts blockbuster musical moments, from the hand-clapping, revival-type seriousness of “The Day the Music Died” to the giddy, gaudy “I Will Survive.” There even are silly sojourns through novelty numbers like “I’ve Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates” and “Muskrat Love.”
The show-stopping highlight came with an emotionally charged, mostly well-executed “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the difficult Queen anthem that changes tempo numerous times and ranges from bass into the upper falsetto. Kyle Vespestad, taking the lead pioneered by the late Freddie Mercury, was terrific except for some strained notes at the very top of his range.
Vespestad, a Cabaret veteran who also was in the pre-Off-Broadway 2000 original, played a generic long-haired, laidback hippie — groovy! — in tie-dyed tops and headbands. He has a sharp sense of comic timing. He also, as co-choreographer with director/star Moore, served up interesting gestures and dance-line movements for fellow castmates when they took turns as back-up singers for each other.
Moore played a range from CB trucker for “Convoy” to ditzy game show assistant for “Scream That Theme” to feminist Gloria Steinem. She also has a husky, seductive voice that makes you sit up and pay attention when she launches into “I Am Woman.”
Kylie Jo Smith, making her Cabaret debut, strutted and growled through Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Tina Turner tributes and put sexy pizzazz into some of the flashiest costumes in the show. Alex Johnson, with her clear strong soprano, did nice things with the nice-girl songs of Olivia Newton-John and Karen Carpenter while also playing the all-purpose blonde disco ditz.
Dylan Lewis, playing sort of a cross between Donny Osmond and Jim Bakker, gave full and wonderful voice to the nice-guy songs like “Everything Is Beautiful.” Less successful was his turn as a game-show host ad-libbing with contestants selected (strong-armed?) from the audience. And Maurice Sims ranged from a slick Sly Stone to a parody of the Village People all in one person dressed in Indian headdress, hard hat, cowboy chaps, biker boots and Army T-shirt. While Sims’ voice came out strong in some musical moments, it inexplicably receded in others, making him occasionally difficult to understand.
The Cabaret Oldtown band — Rich Bruhn on keyboards, Ron Smith on guitar, John Probst on bass and David Consiglio on drums — provided just the right power and sound to support the myriad musical styles, from disco to ballad to anthem, and particularly shined in recreating “Bohemian Rhapsody” just as we remember it from the classic recording.