The lively revival of Oliver! at Paper Mill Playhouse reminded me what a fundamentally odd musical it is. Composer Lionel Bart adapted it from Charles Dickens’s 1838 novel Oliver Twist, one of his darkest works, featuring thieves, whores and murderers galore. Bart lightened the overall tone of this young orphan’s quest to find home and family in 1830s London. The most obvious result was the transformation of the evil master larcenist Fagin into something more like a charming pied piper.
‘Tis the season – time for drag queens to work a holiday theme to buy Mama a new pair of shoes! The hottest drag queen of the moment (a major new talent, really) Jinkx Monsoon has just such a show going on at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, featuring her musical counterpart, pianist/composer/raconteur Major Scales, titled Unwrapped.
This musical has a bunch of wickedly subversive undercurrents that belies its fastidious Edwardian trappings, making it much more to my personal taste than, say, Edwin Drood. The most obvious undercurrent is right there in the title – how to be gentlemanly when pursuing serial murder – but there are others, including gay seduction in the countryside and women sharing a man. Fun stuff!
Ann Hampton Callaway is one of the most powerful singers in cabaret, and she sustains that power throughout her entire new cabaret act, “Songs I Wish I’d Written”. A songwriter herself – best known for writing and singing the theme from the TV hit The Nanny, as well as three songs for Barbra Streisand – Callaway picked only the songs she feels “writer’s envy” for, which makes for a very exciting show indeed. (Ann is also an out lesbian, who gave me the honor of being the journalist to do her “coming out interview” – you can read that here).