On Saturday before meeting Kristen at Cafe Edison, I swung by the St. James and picked up two of the last rush tickets for the matinee of Side Show. It was opening soon (Monday night!) and we were already feeling like we were the last people to see it, so off we went. After a lovely and chaotic lunch at Cafe Edison (matzos ball soup and blintzes, of course), we headed over to the St. James. It was press weekend so the house was packed and you could tell from the energy inside that there were a ton of super fans there.

I was excited to see a professional production of the show after having heard the score so many times and seeing an off-Broadway version years ago. And also the buzz surrounding this one was ridiculous.

Overall it’s a fantastic production of a happy, yet deeply depressing show. There’s not really a happy ending. Luckily though Erin Davie and Emily Padgett sing the absolute shit out of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s beautiful score. While Matthew Hydzik, Robert Joy, and Ryan Silverman were all lovely, David St. Louis showed them all up. He had a powerhouse voice and acted his role (Jake) fantastically. I have lovely memories watching him as an Collins’ understudy and in the ensemble in Rent, and he definitely deserve the Tony nomination he’s going to get for his performance.

This is a brilliant staging of the cult favorite with a stunning cast. Although I don’t get the fan girling around Side Show, I’m really appreciative to have the opportunity to see this production. If you love musical theatre, you should go see it too. 

Last weekend I saw another fun, yet ridiculous, show, Pageant, by Bill Russell, Frank Kelly, and Albert Evans.

A musical about a beauty pageant filled with cliches from all around the country. The catch? All of the contestants are played by men, in drag, of course. 

Through a series of fun numbers, lots of singing and lots of dancing, a few chosen audience members who are the judges, pick who wins the Pageant. The cast is filled with talented gentlemen like Nick Cearley, Marty Thomas, and John Bolton, in addition to Nic Corey, Alex Ringler, Seth Tucker, and Curtis Wiley. 

Is Pageant fun? Yes, but it’s also stereotypical and a little bit cheesy. 

I’ve been waiting to see a staged production of The Last Smoker in America since first hearing selections from the score in 2005. Alice Ripley and my brilliant friend Nick Cearley, among others, were singing songs by the fantastic Bill Russell at The Duplex (I believe) in 2005 (or it could’ve been 2006, I can’t remember).

Taking place in a distant America where smoking laws are incredibly strict and smokers are being punished with with jail time, Pam, the last smoker in America, is trying hard to quit and also be there for her family. Easy laughs are garnered whenever possible, but there is also a lot of heart in this 90-minute musical jaunt through smoke-free time. 

I was sad when I realized that Russell had cut the song “I’ve Got a Gun” (click to see Nick Cearley sing a jazzy version of the song in 2010). It was one of my favorites and instead of Jimmy, Pam’s son, being a sugar and video game addicted kid in need of ritalin, his character was turned into a wanna-be thug. Not nearly as funny, if you ask me.

Farah Alvin (Pam) channels her inner crazy effectively, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little curious as to how Ripley would’ve handled the character. John Bolton (as Pam’s husband, Ernie) was almost equally as crazy but also comical because his character was a failed wanna-be rockstar. Jake Boyd (as Jimmy) did his best with the re-written character but sometimes it was simply unbelievable that he’d want to be a thug. Providing the most laughs was Natalie Venetia Belcon as their anti-smoking, adulterating neighbor Phyllis. 

The Last Smoker is a quick, entertaining 90 minutes in an off-Broadway theatre.

https://www.tumblr.com/audio_file/thatgirlallison/731360931/tumblr_l4itp6U4dI1qzs9hr?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

Two weeks ago my friend Nick Cearley had a concert honoring the music of Bill Russell called Still Bill at The Canal Room in Tribeca.  He packed the venue to the brim and entertained friends and fans alike mostly with songs by Mr. Russell and a few originals too.  The above MP3 (watch the video here) is one of the songs written by Nick and Rock of Ages’ Lauren Molina.  

Oy, is a song that Nick and Lauren wrote a while ago while lamenting their agony over not being Jewish and able to properly use the word “oy.”  It’s hilarious, just listen and you’ll agree, I promise.  

I’ve known Nick since 2006 and I’ve seen him perform in many Duplex-like venues but to watch him fill such a large space with his presence and energy was quite a treat.  Nick performed songs from Side Show, Elegies From Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens, and the soon-to-be-off-Broadway Last Smoker in America.   Alice Ripley even backed him up on drums for one song (replacing her husband, Shannon Ford, who was drumming for most of the show).  It was a smorgasbord of Bill Russell’s incredible music sung by fantastic talent.  

I’m still waiting for Nick to take Broadway by storm, but I know it’ll happen soon.  Until then, he’ll just have to keep dominating the cabaret circuit.