Don’t let the heat of August slow you down. You need to overcome the temptation of sloth and make your way to Mid-City Theatre for Sean Patterson, Jefferson Turner, and Amanda Zirkenbach’s “A Midsummer Night’s Cabaret: An Evening of Sin and Song.”
If you don’t, you will envy those that did.
Using the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins, the devilish trifecta show off their singing and comedy chops for almost two hours of songs picked precisely because of their relation to the tragic desires that plague mankind.
Covering a diverse catalog that includes works from Leon Redbone, Lerner and Lane, and Fats Waller, the pairing of the subversively self-effacing Patterson and live-wire coquette Zirkenbach is a deep indulgence of their talents. They channel the spirit of not only the great musical comedians, but also Hedwig of “the Angry Inch” fame, the Warner Sister Dot from “Animaniacs,” and Kermit the Frog.
Lionel Bart’s “Food, Glorious Food” is demanded, Stephen Sondheim’s “Little Priest” is served up fresh, and Kander and Ebb’s “Money, Money” is greedily relished. And just when you think you’ve heard it all, they unleash Jim Steinman’s great love song from the land of classic rock, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
Aided every step of the way by Turner on the keys, they make it look easy.
But that ease is rehearsed with painstaking care. This includes the singing duo’s movement on and off stage, the casual leanings on the piano, sitting at the strategically placed table, and a good deal of the dialogue.
Rather than creating a stilted effect, the polish allows them to really play with one another, find places for genuine audience interaction and discover spontaneity in the smallest of moments. Their security with the material has a liberating effect on both performers, because they can leave their preplanned bits and banter comfortable in the knowledge it will be there when they return to it.
But what truly distinguishes “A Midsummer Night’s Cabaret” from numerous other slick events is the three performers’ original material.
The trio is only responsible for four of the evening’s songs, but all are winners. The first, “Those Seven Deadly Sins,” serves as an effective manifesto for the show, and the other three are among the night’s highlights.
Zirkenbach and Turner’s “The Object of My Desire” is a patter of narrative rhyme that tells the story of an older husband and wife. They lust, respectively, after a neighbor and deliveryman much to the other’s consternation. It is funny, bitter and allows both singers to show off their sizable comic skills while managing the neat trick of incorporating envy, lust and wrath into one song.
Furthermore, its button is a terrific punch line that all long-term couples will appreciate.
And both of Patterson’s numbers, written with collaborators in New York, bring the house down.
“A Sandwich Aria,” created with composer Julian Blackmore, is a rapid-fire culinary comparison of the Big Easy with the Big Apple. The song celebrates a particular Italian sandwich of New Orleans against anything New York can serve up. I am sure you’ve figured out the name of the overstuffed offering, but the less you know about the song, the more delight you’ll take in how Patterson manages to elicit every possible laugh from the subject.
His second piece, “Truly Thankful,” a collaboration with Josh Freilich, is a riotous take on the wrath we all feel with choice family members during the holidays.
It’s a smart song that cleverly admits the singer’s responsibility in a dysfunctional relationship, and therefore, it makes the building sense of “up yours” earned and cathartic. More than a few patrons will be asking Patterson for his lyrics to include in their future Christmas cards.
All the material works because both Patterson and Zirkenbach are well aware of their strengths and limitations as performers. It prevents the evening from sliding into anything that smacks of vanity and infuses the entire product with approach that beams with confidence.
They needn’t worry about suffering from pride. We’ll feel it for them.
Jim Fitzmorris writes about theater. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.