By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“How are we doing … emotionally?” the Unsinkable Molly Brown (Aimée Beaudoin) asks us at the outset, from the stage of the Spotlight Cabaret.
Well, pretty darn chipper, actually.
The joint is packed on a Sunday evening for Titanical The Musical, Spotlight’s latest show-with-trimmings. The cocktails have arrived. The soup and salad instalments of an amazingly elaborate (and delicious) four-course dinner have been served. And the Spotlight’s co-proprietors, Beaudoin and Jeff Halaby, musical theatre triple-threats with a gift of the gab, who preside like genial, amused hosts at a festive house party, are hanging out having fun with the audience.
Any birthdays? Anniversaries? Weird Tinder dates? Before we set sail on the Titanic (hey, what could go wrong? it’s big), know that Molly Brown is willing to share her Valium. Ah, share and share alike: that’s the thing about the art of cabaret; it’s built on audience interaction, sans fourth wall.
In a theatre town with a curious shortage of cabarets, the Spotlight owns a niche — with chandeliers. It’s a smallish and elegantly appointed second floor venue in Strathcona up the stairs in a brick building across the street from Meat and the Next Act, a couple of doors down from the new Pip. As billed online it’s “a restaurant, bar, rooftop and live venue that features dinner theatre, burlesque, drag, improv, comedy, and live music.”
As you’ll glean from the title Titanical The Musical is a song-and-dance spoof, a vaudeville version, with laughter on its mind (written by Beaudoin and Halaby) of the inflated eminently spoofable movie melodrama. You know, the name you can’t even think of without hearing Celine popping a gusset on the high notes in your mind’s ear for at least three days.
An extremely busy and able-voiced cast of four (including the co-writers, plus Jamie Hudson and Tyler Pinset), kitted out in an amusing scramble of Edwardian duds and shameless accents, tuck energetically into a song list of hits of every stripe and quite a few decades — pop, rock, hip-hop, a bona fide cabaret chanson: Estelle, Styx, Lorde, Christopher Cross, Luther Vandross, The Proclaimers, the Bee Gees.… The sound is first-rate, the work (along with the arrangements) of Aaron Macri.
And the songs are fitted, with the odd nip and tuck and a view to comedy, to the big Titanic themes — you know, the upstairs-downstairs class struggle, eye-watering romance across the class divide, a love triangle, rebirth across the sea in the land of opportunity where there’s liberty “for most people,” the variation on Murphy’s Law about using the word “unsinkable” too many times.
“You worry too much,” the callow controlling rich bloke Zane (Halaby) tells his poor but aspirational fiancée Rose (Hudson) who wonders about the lifeboat shortage because she’s a university graduate. Love’s young dream Jack (Pinset) introduces her to the pleasures of life with the common people below deck: “cholera, open sores, religion, moonshine …”.
Get a grip, Liz; telling you the plot is the height of insanity. OK, there’s a love story, count on it. “You make life without money sound so dreamy,” declares the conflicted Rose, as they sing Sailing (“takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be …”) together. And, ah, the Big Moment on the railing? Bowie’s Under Pressure. Staying Alive finds its natural home in comedy.
All of this is interrupted from time to time with vaudevillian annotations, running gags, assorted sight gags, blithely peripheral moments of comedy at the bar or at an audience table. Hudson is the strongest singer of the four; Pinset has a daffy round-eyed charm as the dazed Jack. Halaby and Beaudoin are naturally adept improvisers.
Putting the Titanic on the Spotlight’s tiny half-moon stage is pretty amusing in itself. But then the show director Trevor Schmidt, whose Northern Light Theatre shows play the small Studio Theatre in the ATB Financial Arts Barn, is an expert on matters of cheap-theatre ingenuity in small spaces. I particularly enjoyed the jolly encounter between the fateful iceberg (Halaby) and a plucky small boat (Beaudoin).
It’s musical comedy at the kind of close quarters that are part of the joke (choreographed by Sarah Dowling). Audience participation — as we all know from shrinking into our theatre seats praying for invisibility — is a tricky thing. Have no fear: the Spotlight treats the audience gently, with casual good humour. It’s a party with strangers. And it runs through New Year’s Eve.
Tickets: 780-760-0202, spotlightcabaret.ca.