As in my recent column, here's another look back at 2012, talking about some shows I was able to see, but hadn't written about here or elsewhere. If you missed them in 2012, don't worry; 2013 is still young. My usual beat is cabaret, but these shows aren't your usual cabaret shows. This column will look at memorable shows by BEN RIMALOWER, and shows that are musical-comedy variety with AMY WOLK plus CAIT DOYLE AND COMPANY, and THE RESCIGNOS --- all have trod the boards at The Duplex, New York's oldest continuing cabaret. With eclectic booking, Thomas Honeck and Lisa Moss run the room (they also run the lights and sound with flair).
At the Duplex in Greenwich Village, BEN RIMALOWER, in a spoken piece with just a few lines sung quickly referring to an icon's material, is focused on PATTI LuPONE, a theatre and cabaret favorite. Ms LuPone, meanwhile, returned to cabaret this past year as the attraction officially opening the new room, 54 Below, and closed out their calendar year for New Year's Eve. A live recording of her show is in the first crop of CD releases from the beautiful club. Buoyant, bubbly, brash Ben was obsessed with LuPone the performer and persona while growing up in an unusual family whirlpool which he talks about in a kind of tell-all evening of auto-bio-laugh-ical material. His actually getting to meet and work with his idol is the second part of the wish-comes-true/be-careful-what-you-wish-for story. Yes, the woman who once filled merely his ears and ears and imagination soon filled his life in work and direct interactions. And he managed not to faint and die from shock or delight.
However, it's hardly all divadom all the time in his act, as it is largely centered on his on-again, off-again (often off) relationship with his father who split from his mom and came out as a gay man. Huh? That's right --- as if divorced parents and re-partnering and moving around aren't complex enough! And that's just the beginning of tales that are both wildly amusing, just plain wild, and touching in their bittersweet and painful moments. The show should come with a two-hug minimum. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction, but there's nothing strange about the impact of the serendipity of Ben's life and strife and the honesty and catharsis on display. Whether your main attraction is to the diva dish, the family soap opera/cope-opera revelations or survival skills and finding one's self, this is quite a ride. It may strike some as T.M.I. or T.S.I. (terrifically self-indulgent). The show is called "Patti Issues," but likeable, kinetic, quirky, intense Ben has all kinds of issues, and many of them are worth bending your ear to hear about. And yes, Patti LuPone has been to the show and all is well. In an enviable run attracting buzz and audiences, the run for Rimalower riffs and rants have been extended and extended and you will find the online cabaret calendar at www.theduplex.com offering quite a few nights to catch this feisty fellow.
I'm glad to see AMY WOLK's terrific, spiffy and spunky show, punnily titled "A Wolk on the Wild Side," will be back on that Duplex stage on February 17. It's a pip. So is she. In case you aren't familiar with the old expression, "a pip," it means you should go see it because she's irrepressible and fun with a devilish twinkle in her eye. Amy, a MAC Award winner, doesn't put on a pretty dress and stand in a pretty light and sing pretty songs all by herself and have some patter inbetween. But she's pretty hilarious and smart. She doesn't just belt and strut, although there is that. In her new show, she has her male back-up singers –the spry and sly Stefan Basti, Jack Herholdt and Thomas Marcus ---as well as some chiming in from skillful, willful partner-in-musical-madness musical director Steven Ray Watkins. A running bit is based on her dad's real-life medical specialty turned into a TV sit-com promo, and leads to a song with a litany of synonyms and slang –and rhymes thereof --- for the very female areas of the body that is his area of expertise. With a non-stop parade of wisecracks and wise moves, eyebrow-raisers and roof-raisers, the hell-raiser has a super-entertaining, briskly energizing/entertaining ha-ha hoot of a hootenanny/shenanigan-a-rama with hilarious ramifications. I hope this doesn't sound like a left-handed compliment, but Amy is one of the few performers who can keep my interest even with a song I wouldn't normally care for, like some pop-rock that my musical convenience store conveniently categorized as cheese or bubble gum. It's all delicious when she adds her Amyness. She winks at them, drinks them in, rethinks them. With director Lennie Watts guiding her or reigning her in, as need be ----and musical staging that's kicky by Kikau Alvaro ----- "A Wolk on the Wild Side" --- is grand. There are anecdotes, costumes and panche and attitude and the return of a favorite set-piece wherein she sets out to peevishly correct the bad grammar in song lyrics (she's been an English teacher) is a well-prepared, well-oiled machine that works its wonders. (P.S.: On February 17, you'd be doubly smart to do a double bill at the Duplex as brilliantly crazed Kristine Zbornik --- no chopped liver when it comes to chopping up the world wittily and having attitude and angsty energy --- has one of her numerous dates for her open-run "Open-Ended Depression." There is no truth to the rumor of this Broadway veteran (and "Forbidden Broadway" veteran enforcing a two-Valium minimum.
Two musical comedy acts I first caught on the tiny Duplex stage some time back –and once on the same bill --- had the opportunity to show and expand their wares in a cool bi-level theatre space at ATA (American Theatre on Actors) on West 54 Street. Particularly endearing, particularly worth cheering, CAIT DOYLE's "Hot Mess in Manhattan" (MAC winner as female debut) and the frolicsome twins THE RESCIGNOS (winners of the Bistro and Nightlife Awards) and their guests were part of The Araca Project which put the spotlight on these Syracuse University grads (and others) making in it NYC.
CAIT DOYLE's little cabaret show has grown up to be an evolving musical comedy montage. Some people and experiences in her wacky life once just spoken of and sung about are now seen in action and interaction, making "HOT MESS IN MANHATTAN" a full, full-force, fully satisfying musical comedy. With original songs and scenes, actors playing her New Jersey mom and various would-be/could-be boyfriends and a best gal pal/advisor and such, this is now a musical play that spins and spins yarns and leaves one's head spinning in the best way possible. DJ Bucciarelli and Jared Zirilli are her excellent chameleonlike co-stars who would only be more perfect if their surnames rhymed perfectly instead of almost.
Cait's embellished real life, a comedy of errors and near-misses and mess-ups, is still the classic example of Murphy's Law where anything that can go wrong ---does. And she always squeaks through, even though her rent is overdue, she gets fired, and has several MetroCards which, all combined, still don't have quite enough to pay for one ride. But what a roller coaster ride she gave with her cast, in this show which used the upper level spaces and a moving staircase especially well. A splendid group of contemporary musical theater writers have contributed songs that capture the "And mayhem ensues" sensibility that is Cait. And – surprise—it has not just determination and loopiness, but also a sweet, beating heart of life-affirming, "you go, girl!" encouraged humanity to deepen the effect. Expect more or less a similar "Mess" of stress to morph more in 2013. www.hotmessinmanhattan.com
THE RESCIGNOS, those twins who (pretend to) drive each other crazy and drive the audience to hysterical gales of mirthful laughter were also in the Araca festival. As a long-time champion of the work of Robbie and Paul and their Rescigno retinue, and the specialty material written by twin Paul, songsmith Mike Hadge and others, I was very happy to see their Duplex doings brought to a wider audience. I was hoping for more brand-new material, but am always happy to see their cute, astute bits and songs brought back. They really have the bickering and blustering brought to a polished art form, with razor-sharp timing. Their singing is perhaps even better than before, and they filled the bigger space pretty well with their talents and personalities. Satire and pop culture references abound, as does their sibling quibbling and picking on each other like affectionate vultures. All in good fun. And all in a good show, which is was, is, and will be in the future. Likewise, their now-traditional Christmas extravaganza back at the Duplex was one of the Yuletide seasons "You'll love this" kind of "guaran-tease." With reindeer and raising a ruckus, they and their gang of Rescignofied regulars and guests brought the sense of an old holiday TV variety show to the stage, tongues in cheek, sweater-vests and props in place, and making merry like the holidays should. Look for their bits on Youtube if you haven't encountered them. http://www.youtube.com/user/therescignos
Here's to your New Year with old favorites...and more.