The second production from Street Theatre, one of Nashville’s newest theater companies, is being performed at PLAY on Church Street, a venue best known for showcasing female impersonators. PLAY offers a hip and stylish ambience for cabaret-style fare, making it a good spot for the Nashville premiere of Macabaret, an hour-long musical revue that takes ghoulish themes and threads them through some 20 numbers performed by a strong-voiced cast of five, who sport darkly punnish names such as Paul Bearer, Maude Lynn, Phil Graves, etc. The music is a scattershot blend of styles—blues, torch, country, music-hall, boogie-woogie, ragtime—often in minor keys, with the tunes interspersed with tongue-in-cheek, intentionally corny patter and featuring some entertaining if none-too-flashy choreography by J. Dietz Osborne.
In concert with the show’s satirically macabre goals, potshots are humorously directed toward icons such as Stephen King, Dr. Kevorkian, the cow that started the Chicago fire, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, not to mention a laundry list of generically apropos topics like gravedigging, murder, Satan and even marriage.
Cast members Stephen Henry, Yvonne Smith, Jill Courtney, Jeanne Ackerley and Tyson Laemmel sing quite well, and they shine in particular when they wend their way through some fairly complex multiple harmonies. Smith offers distinctive renditions of her solos, and Laemmel steals the show, exhibiting a highly appreciated comic showmanship. Belmont University classical piano student Chris Smallwood provides the solo accompaniment and does a solid job with the various musical genres.
While Macabaret is, on the whole, a pleasantly diverting evening of musical theater, there is nevertheless a politeness to director Cathy Sanborn Street’s staging that leaves the show dangling more in purgatory than burning in hell. Clearly this program is designed to be camped-up as much as it can endure, yet the actors simply are not encouraged to take the spoofy otherworldiness to a more outrageous level. Even the makeup and costumes don’t push the creepy end of the envelope to maximum effect.
Overall, the musical presentation is fine, but most of us prefer our Dracula with fangs a lot sharper than Macabaret is currently baring. The show plays two more weekends in anticipation of the avid Halloween crowd.