Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Rich, Little Plum Again

What good is sitting alone in your room when you can come hear the music play?

Life is a cabaret, old chum, and tonight's, called "You're Gonna Hear from Me," featured the considerable talents of Billy Christopher Maupin. Having seen BC in cabaret mode before, I knew to get my butt in gear, walk the mile to Firehouse Theatre and get my name on the waiting list for the sold-out show.

Arriving early, the woman at the ticket desk informed me that tickets wouldn't be available until 7:00. Just then Firehouse's producing artistic director showed up, so she inquired if she could start selling tickets then. "Can you?" he asked. "This is Karen! Of course you can sell her a ticket. She's a VIP."

And there's the proof that the requirements for being a VIP have never been lower, although I was very happy to have gained entry. I wiled away the time before the house officially opened talking to a woman waiting for four friends to show up and complaining because, despite the fact that they're all ushers at multiple theaters around town, her friends have a tendency to show up five minutes before curtain time.

They should know better, she asserted. Someone needs parental guidance.

Once seated, I saw plenty of familiar faces: Byrd manager Todd came over to discuss last night's screening of "Vertigo," a fellow theater alliance panel member and her husband, a longtime member of the theater community I hadn't seen in eons and loads of local actors and dancers.

Best line overheard: "Distinguished character actors never go out of style!" said to, who else, a distinguished character actor.

The woman in front of me returned from the loo to praise the brand new bathroom to her daughter, who decided to go solely because her mother insisted she needed to see it. Daughter came back just as wowed, effectively leaving me no choice but to go see what all the fuss was about. I'll admit, I was impressed with the clean lines, spacious design and proximity.

When Joel came out to welcome the crowd and exhort us to visit the bar often, he, too, jumped on the bathroom bandwagon, suggesting we check out the new loos and perhaps, for nostalgia's sake, make the trek upstairs to look at the old bathrooms.

I made do with two trips to the new and called it a night.

BC arrived onstage to start the show in front of a red curtain in tight black pants, a black shirt and a white tie and barefoot, as he always is for these performances. Nearby was his fellow Campbellsville alumni  Joshua Wortham on keyboard (and sly commentary) as they launched into "It's a Lovely Day."

"I feel like Norma Desmond!" he said dramatically when the song ended. Tonight or always, BC?

Since this wasn't my first rodeo, I knew that BC would make brilliant song choices, never more apparent than in the choice of "Nobody's Chasing Me" (which could have been my theme song from 2009 through 2018, but I digress) and his spirited delivery of it.

The breeze is chasing the zephyr
The moon is chasing the sea
The bull is chasing the heifer
But nobody's chasing me

The cook is chasing the chicken
The pea wakes up pee-wee-wee
The cat is taking a lickin'
But nobody's lickin' me

I mean, why go see a BC Maupin cabaret if you don't want to hear how he changes lyrics and chooses just the right songs to describe his life? We should all be so talented.

Between songs, he talked about moving back to Kentucky where he grew up and went to college ("I live in front of a farm now") and currently works a corporate job ("I don't fit in so well. Surprise!"). Then the guy whose favorite tag is #imakethingssometimes admitted, "I haven't made anything for a year and then this opportunity came up."

How's a boy supposed to resist that?

Alternating between standing in front of a mic stand and sitting on a stool, the evening unfolded as a series of songs interspersed with reminiscing about how he got to Richmond, his time in New York City (illustrated by singing Sondheim's "Another Hundred People"), his love life and his return to Richmond, always told with a healthy dose of self-deprecation and only occasionally, shaking hands.

Naturally, he managed to toss in a reference to having won an ARTSIE last year for having directed "Preludes" on the very stage on which he stood, hilariously following that with a casual mention of having previously won an ARTSIE for directing "Carrie."

"I may as well milk it while I'm in Richmond and people know what it means." Shout it to the rooftops, BC.

Calling dancer/choreographer Emily Berg-Poff Dandridge to the stage, the two of them became contestants on a game show with pianist Josh as the host. Using white boards to write their answers, they didn't manage to match even once, but their attempts were reliably funny. Asked if BC won the lottery what he would buy first, BC wrote "a theater." Emily wrote "booze, boys and Patti Lupone."

With enough lottery winnings, both seem achievable, they agreed.

After the game show portion ended, the two dueted on "Sisters" from "White Christmas," as unexpected a choice as it was charming. Their synchronized stool dancing was limited to leg crossing but the energy was high and the smiles were major wattage.

Explaining that everyone had told him that he couldn't put a cabaret together in two days, BC belted out Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't" to refute that and then the  emotional "I Was Here" before instructing us to use intermission to get a drink because it would make everything better.

Judging by the line at the bar, it was an obedient audience. Well, that and theater people love to drink.

For the second act, BC returned in the same ensemble except with his top button unbuttoned and a black tie, this time to sit at the keyboards and plink out a song before Josh seamlessly sat down to really play.

"It's nice to be back in Richmond," BC said, beaming at all the old friends in the audience. "I know that Virginia Rep is doing 'Chicago' next year, so here's my audition!" and launched into "When You're Good to Mama" with all the passion of a man who wants a role.

Finishing, he smiled devilishly at us and suggested, "Somebody call Nathaniel Shaw right now!" Too bad there wasn't a hot line to Virginia Rep.

Calling up Katrinah Carol Lewis, the two took stools as BC told the story of them seeing Audra McDonald together at the Carpenter Stage, a major event for the uber-Audra fan Katrinah. They both marveled that Audra's glass of water stood untouched all evening as she sang her heart out. "She did not touch it," BC said, clearly amazed. "Just to mock us," Katrinah added.

During an audience singalong, Audra stopped to ask who the beautiful soprano voice belonged to, leading to a one on one conversation with Katrinah about what she sang. When she answered "Your songs," Audra told her that the world already had one of her and needed one of Katrinah, too.

"When I got home that night, I put that in my pipe and smoked it," Katrinah laughed.

The two went on to do a soul-stirring version of "C'mon Get Happy/Happy Days are Here Again" that could have gone on for another half hour without anyone in the room complaining. When Katrinah took a bow before leaving the stage, audience members begged for one more from the two strong voices.

Instead, BC did his third and final tribute as uber-fan to his idol, Patti Lupone.

Saying that he and Josh hadn't wanted to use too much from their last cabaret, BC admitted that they had "Frankensteined this song back together" and I could barely stay in my seat for what I was hoping was to come. That's right, he did "Wonderful Guy" from "South Pacific," which went seamlessly into "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," which slid right into "I Wish I Were in Love Again" - modified to "The classic battle of him and him" - with a brief tangent for "My Funny Valentine" before ending up back with "Wonderful Guy."

Sigh. It was fabulous and brilliant, or, as BC himself would say, Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

While he said that he'd wanted to end the show with a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney put-on-a-show-in-a-barn kind of vibe, he also admitted that it didn't feel right. "So I'm going to do a song by a tree," he announced, signaling the end was near.

Listening to BC sing us out into the night, I couldn't have been the only one struck by how fortunate we were that he'd made his way back to Richmond to make a thing for us again, like he does. Wouldn't it be wonderful to think that he's considering bringing his award-winning talent back to the city that's already acknowledged twice that we like him, we really like him?

If I had any recommendation for such a talented man, it would be to buy a lottery ticket. But only if he promises to schedule regular cabarets with boys, booze and Patti Lupone at his theater. A healthy does of Richard Rodgers would be nice, too.

It's only a cabaret, old chum
And I love a cabaret

Hey, if he can put a cabaret this wonderfully entertaining together in two days, the boy can do anything.

No comments:

Post a Comment