Julian Eaves reviews Christine Pedi with Seth Rudetsky in the latest of the Seth Online Concert Series.
The Seth Concert Series with Christine Pedi and Seth Rudetsky
Online live Sunday 9th May, repeated Monday 10th May
Seth Concert Series Website
‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ (the Sherman brothers) was the saccharine opener to this latest edition of Seth’s cosy computer-side chat-show cabarets. Now, what was that suggesting to us as a direction for the next 90 minutes to take? Your guess was as good as mine.
Pedi, please note, is a graduate of many cabaret stages, including that of the brand leader, ‘Forbidden Broadway’, an even longer running franchise than Seth’s, which bases its success on a coherent and cohesive attitude towards its targets: mocking Broadway shows through exaggerated and brazenly cheapened imitation. So, she does know how these things can go.
Would that explain why we next stepped into, ‘Mama, A Rainbow’, from Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady’s score for ‘Minnie’s Boys’, a show that is a welcome novelty in this series (where a more standard repertoire seems to be favoured)? The connection is with ‘Mother’s Day’ (US English for Mothering Sunday, and Mothering Sunday is English for who knows what). It’s a subject, but it is a theme? Or, is it an ‘attitude’? You decide. Today’s playlist then gave us Harry Nilsson’s, ‘The Puppy Song’, which is kind of cute and harmless, and really nothing more than that. If you could hear a reason to continue listening in this sequence, you were way ahead of me. In one of his more memorable phrases – not intended as a compliment – Gore Vidal said that no US president ever got elected who didn’t love his mother (and, in order of descending importance, her apple pie and his dog). That, he indicates, described the average topography of the American political system. If you think the purpose of art is to pat society on the back, then fine. But, if you believe that art really can do better than that, you might expect more.
Things improved – and how! – with a sudden shot of ‘Forbidden Broadway’, showcasing its splendid parody of ‘The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe’ (Warren/Mercer) from ‘The Harvey Girls’: ‘The Ashkebad, Tbilisi and the Kiev Express’ (the founder of the brand and inextinguishable author of its relentless attacks on American complacency, Gerard Alessandrini, helpfully giving voice to what Anna Karenina MIGHT have sung in a musical based on the novel Lev Tolstoy wrote about her: if you’re wondering about where the link is, Anna has an affair that doesn’t go well and she kills herself by jumping in front of a train). This was a breath of really fresh air, the like of which this show seldom gets to breathe.
We then got Pedi doing Bette Midler doing, ‘Who’s Gay In Hollywood’, another FB parody (of ‘Hooray For Hollywood’, Richard Whiting/Johnny Mercer). This was spot on, and not dated by a minute, because the American media – as represented by its movie factories – has still got a long way to go in facing up to the truth of how it represents minorities. Pedi is a gifted mimic, and she really shone in this capacity. Less sparklingly, though, she followed it with a run-through of Rick Crom’s ‘Mother Nature’ from his auteur-like, ‘Newsical’ (another snappy New York topical revue incarnation); this painted a less than sugary picture of what happens when you displease the biggest Mom of all.
Well, cabaret can – and should – be ambitious, and now the show was clearly headed in the right direction. That is, at least the songs were. As for the patter between musical numbers, it was less engrossing, echoing the usual, ‘And then I only had two weeks to prepare for going on in….’, style of anecdotes, which wouldn’t get past ALL of the writers I have credited above. More reliable material came in Kander and Ebb’s deceptively simple, ‘When You’re Good To Mama’, from their stinging satire, ‘Chicago’, with its queasily erotic imagery inviting all sorts of unpleasant connotations (that we were allowed to laugh at, rather than agonise over). Attitude, you see. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
‘You Mustn’t Feel Discouraged’ (with spitting lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Jules Styne, from their show, ‘Fade Out/Fade In’) kept us striding positively towards a really depressing view of America. And then came a sonically arresting lampooning of Barbra Streisand (laceratingly delivered) in a number so mind-numbingly slow it defied identification.
The competition this week, however, triumphed over everything with a pole-dancing finale that enabled a welcome return of choreography (remember choreography?) to the online cabaret stage. And Pedi is a difficult act to top. Nevertheless, she had a go with her riposte, a Blossom Dearie-esque, ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’ (Rodgers and Hart), for which Seth riffed some deliciously executed counterpoint. Risk and danger make an audience sit up, and that is what we did.
Thence to the big, mega-finale medley. ‘Les Mis’ sinking under the waves of its own sense of self-importance, with Pedi directing her venomous vocal gymnastics at a whole bunch of stars, magnificently miscast in a variety of inappropriate Schoenberg/Boublil roles. Result: cheering and applauding, and quite possibly jumping out of your ergonomically designed chair, all these were histrionically inevitable.
So, as a whole, the show was not perfect, perhaps; but who needs perfection when you have genius? We loved it.