The talented Tamarie Cooper opens the latest in a series of annual musical extravaganzas — this one rife with patriotism — to enchant yet again the hordes of her loyal followers, and to allow the Catastrophic Theatre to introduce newcomers to a remarkable talent: a Renaissance woman who conceives, directs, choreographs and acts, and does all these well. Houston should be proud. Along with Tamarie comes a cast of polished performers who bring her vision to vibrant life.
In The United States of Tamarie, the hilarity unfolds in a variety of satiric musical numbers that poke fun at the foibles of the United States, but with the observant eye of a doting parent. The script covers so much ground that it is a virtual history of America over the centuries. Tamarie has the good luck to have available a time machine that allows travel to any point in time (we see it at work on projected videos), and she uses it to peel back with the scalpel of humor the illusion of the "good old days," which are good only if you enjoy hunting witches in Salem or pitting brother against brother in the Civil War. And, yes, the time machine moves forward as well, so we see three versions of the future, each of which makes one glad to be living in the present.
Her exploration of the evolution of various jazz genres is insightful and side-splitting. And a video projection in French is priceless, as it explains that everything sounds better in French, including a reference to monkeys that will not be repeated here. Despite this exception, the wit here is subtle and nuanced, an exception to Tamarie's usual take-no-prisoners approach to humor. The first act ends with a hilarious "Born Again Texans" revival meeting as unfortunates from Iowa and California find their inner Texan. Tamarie, being from Chicago, has a hard time converting, but finally sees the light. It is a hoot and well-acted.
The sharpest satire comes in the Happy Liberal Land sequence and delivers some telling blows before scooting on to the next revelation. In a quiz show, virtually every answer is accepted as to who was responsible for 9/11 — including "Guatemala" — with the single exception being "Saudia Arabia," which contributed 18 of the 20 hijackers.
As a writer, Tamarie is original and inventive, as a choreographer she is indefatigable and as a performer she is an accomplished professional, with gifts of mime, acting depth when called for and an unflagging poise as mistress of ceremonies that is engaging. The other 14 actors are not just backup performers but stars in their own right, and are given the opportunity to demonstrate it. They are all good, but I especially liked Kyle Sturdivant as a conspiracy theorist and as a Texas preacher, Sara Jo Dunstan in a variety of roles, each sexier than the other, and Richard Jason Lyders-Gustafson dancing up a storm and being cool as Kenny G. One thread of what passes for plot has Tamarie trying to write a new national anthem, and seeking the advice of the ill-fated President William Henry Harrison, well played by Seán Patrick Judge. Walt Zipprian plays himself and appears frequently to help establish plot developments (I use that phrase loosely); he is an adept foil for Tamarie as they spar.
The set, by Jodi Bobrovsky, is colorful, facilitates the high-energy antics and also allows for projections on a large white star as needed without detracting from the patriotic decor. As one might expect, the costumes, by Tiffani Fuller, run to red, white and blue, but she is given more range in the Texan Revival scene and uses it well. The book, by Patrick Reynolds, who also wrote some of the lyrics, sweeps you along with its humor, scope and pace. Joe Folladori contributed to the music and lyrics, John Duboise to the music and DeWitt Gravink to the lyrics. By now it should come as no surprise that Tamarie helped with some lyrics and with the costumes as well. The production is technically complex but runs well, thanks to Kirk Markley for lighting, Tim Thomson on video design and Chris Bakos for sound. The music and vocal direction by Miriam Daly contribute enormously to the entertainment. Bakos and Daly were joined by Cathy Power and Kirk Suddreath to comprise a compelling four-piece band, unobtrusively seated upstage to avoid being caught in the cross-fire of fun.
The production should appeal to patriots of all political persuasions, though Dallas residents may have a basis for complaints about one song, as the company searches in vain for something nice to say about Dallas after "the rolling hills of Dallas" is rejected. The event ends with the new national anthem from Tamarie, and is followed by the bows, and the tumultuous and well-deserved standing ovation. The joy shared by performers who love their craft and enjoy exulting in their talent spreads to and engulfs the audience. The result is a robust, riotous evening of fun and laughter, one likely to be savored and remembered.
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