Orlando Cabaret Festival 

Mad Cow's 10th annual festival is a gleeful celebration of the American songbook

click to enlarge EUGENE IVANOV
  • Eugene Ivanov

Orlando Cabaret Festival

through May 13
Mad Cow Theatre
105 S. Magnolia Ave.

Mad Cow Theatre's 10th Annual Orlando Cabaret Festival got off to a slow start this past weekend. At each of the three performances I attended May 5, no audience exceeded a dozen patrons – a far cry from previous editions of the event. And that's a shame, because there is some pretty nifty singing and showboating going on Chez Moo. So why the small audiences?

Well, Saturday was Cinco de Mayo, so maybe it just wasn't a grand night for singing downtown, but it may also have to do with the fact that there are no big acts and no headliners from out of town in this year's trimmed-down mini-celebration. In fact, there are just four different presentations – the kind that usually make up the festival's minor-league roster – with a cast of eight performers, all local, but none with a hefty hometown following.

That being said, musical director and show pianist John Mason and his company of bench players took the field with gusto and acquitted themselves admirably. Among the dozens of tunes they belted out over three innings of work were lots of singles and doubles, the odd triple here and there, and every performer hit at least one or two out of the park.

In It Was a Very Good Year: 1962, singers Julie Woods-Robinson, Cami Miller, Frank Siano and Zach Nadolski rewind the tape with show tunes, pop songs and rock & roll standards from the era. They even throw in a few commercial jingles. Some of them – like those for Coca-Cola and Brylcreem – are so insidiously awful that they've actually stayed in our collective consciousness for half a century (nice going, Madison Avenue). Siano scores on the Connie Francis hit “Al Di La,” Nadolski on “You Don't Know Me,” and the boys together on “Roses Are Red.” Miller is a hoot, knocking out “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and Woods-Robinson commendably channels Streisand in “Miss Marmelstein,” from Broadway's I Can Get It for You Wholesale.

Inning two was the kind of show that could only have evolved out of the City Beautiful's theme-park-saturated DNA; An Animated Night of Cabaret is 80 minutes of cartoon tunes. But here's what's interesting: Some of the songs from these full-length animated features – mostly from the Disney and Don Bluth studios – are actually pretty good. Even if they do tend to be somewhat formulaic (lots of lonely characters singing about being lonely, but then finding the courage to just be themselves and, with that inner knowledge, conquer the world), the lyrics are usually smart and snappy. Evan D'Angeles, Trevor Southworth and Natalie Walker all entertain in a variety of tunes; Melissa Vasquez raises goose bumps with her lustrous interpretation of “Colors of the Wind.”

The home team comes back swinging in the third inning, And the Tony Goes To …, songs from several decades of Broadway musicals. The highlights are Siano's heartfelt “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof; Nadolski's strong voice on “Man of La Mancha,” as well as his sweet tenor on “Johanna” from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd; Miller and Woods-Robinson in the comic duet “The Grass Is Always Greener,” from Woman of the Year; and Miller's tour de force performance of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from the stage version of Sunset Boulevard.

The visiting team also stars in a fourth show, A Gay Night for Singing, which I didn't get to see. Here's hoping that the bleachers fill up for the final home games this weekend.



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