Out Front Theatre streams ‘Role Reversal Cabaret’

In Out Front Theatre's musical revue "Role Reversal Cabaret," streaming through March 8, Brandon Smith (right, accompanied on piano by Nick Silvestri) performs a song from "The Little Mermaid."
Courtesy of Saturnblu Productions
In Out Front Theatre's musical revue "Role Reversal Cabaret," streaming through March 8, Brandon Smith (right, accompanied on piano by Nick Silvestri) performs a song from "The Little Mermaid." Courtesy of Saturnblu Productions

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

With an established emphasis on LGBTQ programming — e.g., past productions of musicals like “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical” and “La Cage aux Folles,” or its sadly shuttered pre-pandemic plans to stage the landmark drama “The Boys in the Band” — leave it to Out Front Theatre to offer a welcomed gay twist on what’s become the usual prerecorded greatest-hits revue of late.

Midway through Out Front’s self-explanatory “Role Reversal Cabaret” (streaming through March 8), when Joe Arnotti appears, for instance, dressed in jeans and boots and a cowboy hat, we know full well he won’t be singing one of Curly’s big solos from “Oklahoma!”

Indeed, by the time he delivers a rendition of Ado Annie’s “I Can’t Say No” instead, we’ve already seen and heard Megan Wartell vocalizing about the hormonal crisis of an adolescent boy (from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”). We savored a couple of touchingly nuanced turns by Jason Jamal Ligon and Chase Thomaston, too, with songs traditionally performed by women (in “The Last Five Years” and “Beauty and the Beast,” respectively).

Out Front founder and producing artistic director Paul Conroy conceived and supervised the production, and Saturnblu Productions photographed and edited it; the 70-minute cabaret features some 20 tunes. Most of them are accompanied on piano by the company’s resident music director, Nick Silvestri; for whatever reason, though, a few of them opt for canned instrumental tracks.

There are other inconsistencies with the show. Under the intimate circumstances — a single vocalist on a largely bare stage, essentially performing to a camera as opposed to a live audience — several of the solos are belted out too loudly, as if aimed for the back row of a fully packed theater, rather than to viewers streaming it from the privacy of their computers or mobile devices.

Some of the numbers include introductions by the singers, who put them within the context of their particular shows, or who offer personal anecdotes about their own connections to the songs (Elliott Folds’ from “Falsettos,” Tony Hayes’ from “Jekyll and Hyde”) — but most of them don’t. At least one tune is replete with props and the semblance of a set (Max Mattox’s fine “Nine” routine) — but the rest of them aren’t.

Ill-advisedly, actor Blake Fountain resorts to full-blown drag for his variation of the Sondheim standard “Send in the Clowns” (from “A Little Night Music”). The classic ballad was originally conceived as the lament of an aging actress, so it somehow undermines and defeats the whole “role reversal” purpose of Conroy’s premise that it’s presented here with the very same intention.

To be sure, two of the nicest highlights in Out Front’s show belong to Bradley T. Johnson (with the Baker’s Wife solo from “Into the Woods”) and Brandon L. Smith (with Ariel’s “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid”) — both of whom discover new meaning and emotion in the songs by performing them comparatively straight.

Jen Acker appears in Out Front's streaming musical revue "Role Reversal Cabaret."
Courtesy of Saturnblu Productions
Jen Acker appears in Out Front's streaming musical revue "Role Reversal Cabaret." Courtesy of Saturnblu Productions

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Not all of the melodies are as well-known as others. For every familiar bit from “Cabaret” (by Clint Clark-Duke) or “Hamilton” (by Jen Acker), there are less popular ones from “Cry-Baby” (with Tyler Sarkis) or “Songs for a New World” (with Vallea Woodbury, another standout).

Rounding out the ensemble: Hannah Marie Craton (singing from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”); Caty Bergmark (“Children of Eden”); Cansler McGhee (“Waitress”); Anna Gonzalez (“The Wild Party”); and Precious West (“Mean Girls”).

Certain isolated moments in “Role Reversal Cabaret” are executed with greater polish and skill than others, of course, but something is better than nothing — especially these days. For an encore, perhaps Conroy and company could offer a similar program featuring a playlist of socially distanced musical-theater duets?

THEATER REVIEW

“Role Reversal Cabaret”

Available for streaming through March 8. $15. 404-448-2755, outfronttheatre.com.

Bottom line: Sort of a jukebox revue of show tunes — some more famous (and better delivered) than others.

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