Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Under the Influence—Funhouse Lounge—SE Portland

"Life is a Cabaret…”

This quirky musical is presented by Fuse Theatre Ensemble and the OUTwright Theatre Festival, written and composed by Ernie Lijoi (additional music by Kevin Laursen and Lawrence Rush) and directed, choreographed and designed by Sara Fay Goldman and Rusty Tennant (Artistic Director of Fuse) and musical direction/piano by Matt Insley.  It is playing at the Funhouse Lounge, 2432 SE 11th Ave. (street parking only), through September 30th.  (They also have a bar and serve pizza, and the infamous Clown Room, if you dare to enter.)  For more information, go to

This sensational show simply sizzles with a scintillating smattering of sensual songs, scandals and sanctimonious scenes of scathing and startling screw-ups of a substandard species (yes, the play is ripe with word plays of this sort).
  Think, “The Wizard of Oz” meets “Cabaret” via “The Fantasticks” and “ease on down that road.”  Mind you, this is not for everyone as it is an “Equal Opportunity Offender.”  Of course, it really may only be just a “Trumped” up dream and “Fake News” but, you decide, if you chose to indulge yourself.

In a word, it’s Stupendous!  It’s bound for Broadway, or should be, as it’s deserving, in story, music, lyrics, dialogue and cast of bigger horizons to follow, all in the capable hands of Ernie Lijoi, who conceived the whole experience.  Could we have another “Hamilton” creator on our hands with this musical?  I think so. 

It really is an amazing journey, as the main character of Anita (Sara Nightingale), like Dorothy, a sort of Every(hu)man, will travel down that yellow-bricked road (laden with booze, caffeine, nicotine, obsession, repression, depression, etc.) to find that elusive place called…home.  But the story is told as a flashback, complete with a Narrator, in the guise of the Emcee (Ithica Tell), who will take on other masks to reveal the tale.  She is aided by two minions, who play all the other characters in the story, Jessica Tidd and Ernie Lijoi.  And so she begins her travels of addiction to discover who she was/is/will be.

She begins by being under the hyper-influence of coffee, even to the makers of it (but watch out for the monkey poop); to the hazy world of alcohol; to her self-image and the anatomically incorrect Barbie-doll nemesis; to the cigarette-crazed society and her idol, Mr. Moose-man; as a Chocoholic; to the sex-obsessed stage of primeval development; and onto the religious factions on the far-right, goose-stepping to the tune of white purity is security.  Much of it is told in song and clever word play so wouldn’t be able to match that in expressing it in a review.  Also the songs were not listed so couldn’t focus on them, either, but know that they were all very good and well integrated into the story.

My favorite moments were the alt-right sections and the You’re a Nation anthem and Tell’s version of the “good ole boy” as their leader.  Also loved Tell as Mr. Moose-man, a combination of Mr. Rogers and Joe Camel (an excellent dark comedy about smoking is the film, “Thank You For Smoking”).  Nightingale’s rendition of her lovers in her Alphabet solo is priceless.  And Tidd and Lijoi, as the expanded chorus, are the life blood of the production and are extraordinary.  These are all pros at their professional best!

Tennant and Goldman have done a fabulous job of putting such a large subject onto such a small space.  It’s amazing how talent will out, no matter the circumstances.  Also the Swing (Alex Lugo) and lighting person (not listed).  And Insley is a true asset to the success of the show.  But the person of the hour is, without a doubt, the creator of this experience, Lijoi, a true genius!  His music is reminiscent of Kander and Ebb (Cabaret), as well as touches of Weber and Sondheim.  And his expertise with manipulating potent words and zippy dialogue is almost without equal. 

This is the show to see folks, if your constitution can handle it.  And, speaking of the Constitution, and since this is a highly-charged social/political script, I am reminded of three words from it that seem to have been forgotten for many years.  If we can reinstitute them into our Government, we might put ourselves back on track.  The words are, “We, the People…” not I or Special Interest Groups nor right, left or in-between, not one sect, sex or disenfranchised race or group.  We, meaning All!

Obviously, I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis proudly sent you!

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