Oh, Kay!, by George and Ira Gershwin, is a hop back to a "quaint" time when bootleggers and flappers occupied American pop culture. Oh, for those sweet, simple times when women had no rights, Jim Crow laws kept blacks under wraps, and the great depression loomed. But the myth of the "good old days" lives large in this old song-and-dance warhorse.
Are these myths relevant anymore?
Main Street's production offers a fascinating peek into the rhetoric of an age. Jokes about women and homosexuality pop up throughout Oh, Kay!
runs through October 31 at Main Street Theater at Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose,
For instance: "Milkmen very seldom get married. They see women too early in the morning." Badabing, badaboom.
Or worse: Things around here are a bit "queer," followed with a double take.
This is the humor of a simpler time, before ideas about cultural sensitivity mucked everything up.
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Of course, there are all those lovely Gershwin tunes, including "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Do-Do-Do." And the performance runs along very nicely on the energy of such actors as Joel Sandel, Paul Sidello, Karen Ross and Emily Anne Carter.
Then there's the phenomenon of Jef Johnson's performance as "Shorty" McGee, the bootlegging butler. Johnson never sings a note. He just spends his time cavorting about the stage. Spinning and leaping and twisting himself into the most wonderful contortions, he's a whole show unto himself. His high-water pants show off his white socks, while his astounding face twists into the most hysterical range of emotions. When he's shocked, his lips bunch up into a mushroom of surprise. Anger bushes out in his eyebrows. He's even fun to watch when he's doing nothing but standing on the sidelines listening.
And the man can dance! He does an arm-flying, leg-hopping hoochie-coochie Charleston, better than anyone I've ever seen. He manages to take director Rob Babbitt's mild choreography and turn it into something delightful.
His performance is almost enough to make you forget what's hidden under all those one-liners.