Thumb your nose at the Grim Reaper

Musically Speaking: The World of John Wallowitch

Songs by John Wallowitch
Conceived and directed by Mark Finley
Musical direction by Jason Loffredo
TOSOS II in association with Out Professionals/The Billy Blackwell Musical Theatre Project
Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher St. (at 7th Ave.; 212/255-5438)
Review by John Chatterton

John Wallowitch, himself no spring chicken, writes songs about cosmetic surgery, suicide ("Christimas is the Perfect Time"), and death ("it's gonna get you in the end"). These songs make aggressive fun of death and aging, and had the Duplex audience in stitches. Denial, while not a river in Egypt, may or may not run through Sheridan Square, depending on whether you consider thumbing your nose at Death to be a form of denial or a denial of Death's dominion.

Wallowitch's songs, in addition to being witty, are constructed with the precision of Swiss timepieces. Their performance at the Duplex showed the tight integration of sterling material with Mark Finley's endlessly creative font of staging ideas and the effortless performing chops of the singers, Chris Weikel (especially), Heather Olt, and Robert Locke.

Staging ideas? When most people think of staging ideas, they think of scenery, costumes, and lights. Staging a show at the Duplex might mean a piece of gray-patterned curtain and a vase of lilies on the piano (plus some martinis), two suits and a black dress, and a standard cabaret lighting plot. Oh, not to forget the pearls, lavender tie, and lime-green shirt! What Finley brought to the table is an inventiveness at providing business for the performers to enliven and illustrate the songs. What the performers brought was sufficient confidence in their singing to let loose and act out all the little moments that peppered the songs and brought them to life. Sounds straightforward, but rarely is it so, especially in a bookless cabaret act. And don't forget that this all took place on the proverbial postage stamp, seemingly half of which is taken up by a grand piano.

Speaking of the piano, Jason Loffredo's music direction provided not only galloping accompaniment (there weren't many slow numbers) but also musical interpretation and embellishment to tell the story, especially in "Cosmetic Surgery."

Of the performers, Weikel shone with his rubberized facial expressions and rock-solid vocal range. Of the songs, "Dutch Ecology," performed by Olt ("I wonder what it's like to be a dike"), surely jumped out for its comic effect and multiple meanings. But audiences are urged to drop everything and rush to the Duplex to catch the end of the run and make up their own minds.

Whether there is a connection between this making fun of death and the genesis of TOSOS II (a company reborn in the image of TOSOS, "The Other Side of Silence," a seminal gay theatre company) is the subject of another discussion. What is clear is that TOSOS II and Wallowitch are soulmates and should be made to perform endlessly for the rest of the world's deep enjoyment. That would be heaven.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Performing: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2005 John Chatterton