It’s been nearly 15 years since Kyle Vespestad played wide-eyed Adam to John Bates’ demure Eve, exploring the delights of Eden’s “Free Food and Frontal Nudity” to a catchy calypso beat.
It’s been that long since Wichita also saw Vespestad and Bates as, respectively, swaggering Napoleon and towering Josephine, or hilariously accented Queen Isabella and pie-in-the-sky Columbus, or simpering Southern belle Amber Lee and her dithering daddy, Col. Peckerwood – not to mention the two comic actors as the biblical Mary and Mrs. Gandhi commiserating over how hard it is to be a mother with a world-changing son.
But Vespestad and Bates, longtime fixtures of Wichita’s theater and cabaret scene, are joining forces again for an encore of “The Big Bang” on Friday and Saturday nights through May 23 at Roxy’s Downtown. It’s the same venue the show played in 2001, but under its former name of Cabaret Oldtown.
And both say that coming back to the show is like putting on a favorite pair of slippers – easy, familiar and comfortable to slip into.
“Even though it’s been a long time and even though there is a lot of fast-paced dialogue and lyrics, it was such an interesting experience that the show sort of stuck in my body. Everything was still there,” Bates says.
“There were moments when I looked at the script again and didn’t remember some of the dialogue, but as soon as we started singing, the music all came back,” Vespestad says.
Adds Bates: “It’s a pretty physical show. I do a lot of pratfalls. I’m a little older now, so I’m hoping not to break a hip. But there’s no downside to this show. It takes a lot of energy, but it’s all good energy.”
Adds Vespestad: “It’s the funniest show I’ve ever been in. We could have done it for a year back then and never gotten sick of it.”
With music by Jed Feuer and book/lyrics by Boyd Graham, “The Big Bang” is a fast-paced, satirical romp about two songwriters attempting to persuade investors to put money into their plans for the biggest musical of all time: a grandiose, 12-hour epic in four acts with 318 cast members wearing more than 6,000 costumes and 1,400 wigs telling the history of humanity from the Garden of Eden to Woodstock.
In their eagerness to convince, the two would-be Rodgers and Hammersteins act out all the roles themselves, grabbing everything at hand – curtains, candlesticks, pillows, chair cushions, lamp shades and even a mantle clock – as costumes in an inventive, quick-change frenzy.
The New York Daily News declared the 1998 show “inspired nonsense” that sees “world history as a camp musical.”
“The surprise of what we turn things into is a lot of the fun for the audience,” says Vespestad, who is restaging Wichita’s original 2001 production directed by Brett Allan Young. Christine Tasheff is doing props and costumes – more than 200 separate items used in outlandish ways. Tasheff and Jeff Priddle are re-creating the original apartment set.
“It’s an extremely prop-heavy show,” Tasheff says. “I had a few things left that we built specially for the first show, like a mantle clock that’s turned into Napoleon’s hat, but probably only about 10 percent. I’ve had to round up new things for all the rest. I even raided my own home.”
Accompanying the two actors will be music director Rich Bruhn at the piano on stage in view of the audience.
“I first saw the show in San Francisco in the late 1990s and knew we needed to do it at Cabaret Oldtown,” says Tasheff, who founded the downtown showroom, sold it a decade later to a new owner, but now another decade later is back as artistic director.
“The show is just a real party. You have to pay attention to the lyrics because they are so smartly written,” Tasheff says. “People laugh so hard that we tell them to come expecting to need their Depends.”
If you go
‘The Big Bang’
What: Satirical musical about the history of the world from the Garden of Eden to Woodstock with all roles played by Kyle Vespestad and John Bates
Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412½ E. Douglas (upstairs)
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through May 23
Tickets: Dinner/show $40; show only, $25. Call 316-265-4400.