Sunday, February 22, 2015

We're Halfway There

Flashback to the '60s, flashback to the '80s.

With the water in my apartment finally restored by 5:00 today and rain falling steadily outside (hopefully to melt the snow), I set out to meet a friend for dinner - a terrific crabcake special, Bistro salad and grilled shrimp - at Bistro 27, apparently the place to be tonight with a full house by 7:00 despite the rain.

We didn't linger too long over our chocolate torte because people were still arriving, opting instead to head across the street to find our seats at the November Theater for Cadence Theater Company's new production of  "Caroline, or Change."

I've seen plenty of Cadence's well-executed productions, but this was the first musical I'd seen them do and on that tiny TheaterGym stage, too. The set was brilliant with two levels, one for the band (which included clarinet and cello) and steps leading down from there to the main stage.

Set in 1963 and referencing JFK's death and civil rights activism, the play told the story of Caroline, a black maid for a Jewish family in Louisiana in 1963. The cast was full of black actresses with stellar voices, a lovely thing given that almost none of the dialog was spoken, just sung.

Appliances such as the washing machine were also played by actresses (although the dryer was a man), including the radio which was played by a trio who dressed like the Supremes and sang Caroline's thoughts. Even better, they had the synchronized choreography to go with those dresses.

In many ways, it was a play about nothing more than a black woman's struggle to get by at a time when very little value was placed on their happiness. But in terms of singing, it was a rousing sampler of the some of the very best female voices in town.

Rather than stay for the reception afterwards, I invited my theater-loving companion to join me for the first-ever Late Night Lip Sync Battle at The Basement, TheaterLab's subterranean space in Jackson Ward a few blocks away.

Another friend had already agreed to meet me there after checking in earlier.

Short notice, but are you free tonight?
Unfortunately, no, but I'm going to watch a lip-syncing battle at 10:30 if you'd like to meet me.
Wow, that sounds fun. I'm in!

Walking into the Basement, we heard a woman call out, "Jello shots, two for a dollar," from behind a table covered in brightly colored plastic containers. All of a sudden, it was the '80s again.

When my companion asked if I wanted a glass of wine, I declined and instead decided to revisit my youth. One red, one blue Jello shot, please.

I couldn't have been more surprised when he followed my lead and got Jello shots, too, albeit both red. When he wasn't sure how to shoot them, I demonstrated ringing the glass with my finger and pouring the contents down my throat. Clearly someone had not been paying attention in the '80s (that or being far more responsible than I had).

Josh Small was playing when we arrived, warming up the crowd with his earnest songs, and my short notice friend spotted me and called my name. He'd brought his new squeeze whom I'd heard so much about and we joined them in the second row.

After my second set of Jello shooters, my friend marveled, "I can't believe you had four Jello shots." That didn't stop him (or me) from having one when they began passing them out for free just before the show started, I might add.

Honestly, they were the ideal accompaniment to the tremendously fun and raucous evening that followed.

Two teams, the TheaterLab team (also known as the Labradors) and the Street team, faced off lip syncing and it was up to the audience to vote the winners. One million points per round.

The first song was Louie Vega's "Mambo #5" followed by the Ting Ting's "That's Not My Name," two songs that allowed the Labs to show some attitude and work the microphone.

So, of course, Matt of the Street team began his team's challenge by saying, "The first thing you need to know is that we'll be foregoing the microphone because we can project." Drama kid pride.

It was so much fun watching the teams face off with songs such as En Vogue's "Never Gonna Get It," complete with dance moves. When the emcee asked, "How you gonna follow that?" the Street Team said, "Easily."

Watching Paul emote to Whitney's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" may have been one of the all-time most fabulous things I've ever witnessed. Just a guess, but I think he's sung a whole lot of Whitney in front of the mirror before.

There was always a challenge to decide which team led off a round. One time it was a beer chugging contest (Maggie beat Paul) and another time a quiz. "Who in the 3rd century invented lip syncing?" Mat won with, "Jesus!"

By that point it was obvious to me at least that by the end of the night, the two teams would be fine and everyone in the audience would be hoarse from screaming...and singing along when we couldn't help it (see: "Livin' On a Prayer").

Midway through, my friend leaned over his date and said, "I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard." Clearly I need to take him out more.

My favorite round was the Improv challenge where eight 30-second clips were played. One person on the team at bat had to decide in the moment who would step forward after the song began and lip sync it. This was the round where we saw the most panic on the faces of the team members.

Yet they all came through, each member nailing one song: "I Will Always Love You " with body fondling and song lyrics sung directly to audience members, the aforementioned Bon Jovi which got so loud with the singalong that the walls seemed to shake, "Bootylicious" with killer dance posturing.

For the final round, each team had prepared a full-ensemble set piece. Street team did "Uptown Funk" with Alexander on the lead going full over the top in his white coat, suspenders and pelvic thrusting. The Labradors did the Moulin Rouge version of "Lady Marmalade," all of them wearing white buttons on their shirts to indicate nipples. They were declared the winners.

Jello shots history, mad screaming and applause ensued as the room became a dance party with everyone joining the lip syncing teams on the floor.

Cause uptown funk gonna give it to you
Saturday night and we in the spot
Don't believe me? Just watch

I guarantee you'll laugh a lot.

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