You got to have friends" was the opening number, and it was clear the performers had plenty. Cutter's, a small bar on Franklin Avenue, was packed, recently, when Becky Allen, Chris Wecklein and Harry Mayronne Jr. took to the bandstand to do their music and comedy cabaret. The trio was in fine form and was complemented by a cameo appearance from the inimitable Miss Viola, the stomp-down Seventh Ward Creole marionette, who occasionally allows Mayronne to pull her strings.
'How many people here are from New Orleans?" Allen asked. A roar of positive unanimity was the response. 'Good," continued Allen, 'then we don't need interpreters."
That sort of Crescent City coziness set the tone for the evening. Much of the humor grew from an appreciation of living in a place that's been described as an exotic island close to the United States. Sometimes the coziness felt just a bit forced, but the crowd loved it anyway. Maybe there's a sense of belonging that comes from everyday life in a city that's famous for not being an everyday kind of place.
'You've got to be crazy to live here / You can't be playing with a full deck," sang Allen and Wecklein, surrendering to that self-mocking sentiment. Appropriately enough, the song was written by Ricky Graham and the late Freddie Palmisano " two Big Easy-ites who have provided many original show-biz celebrations of Y'at Land. Graham, of course, continues to do so on a regular basis at Le Chat Noir.
At Cutter's, neither New Orleans' soaring murder rate nor its reptilian politics got a mention. The focus was more on commonplace trials and tribulations " like cockroaches. An accomplished resident, we learned, knows just how much pressure to apply to kill the roach but not ruin the carpet. Occasionally, there was a dollop of risqué nonsense thrown in for its own sake, like the tale of a barge accident on Lake Pontchartrain. It was carrying Viagra, so there are not going to be any soft-shell crabs for six months. A few of these jokes, particularly in the second half of the show, got so risqué that I can't think of a way to relate them in print.
Brief upbeat monologues and skits alternated with musical numbers accompanied by Mayronne on the piano. There were rousing solos and close harmony duets. Allen has been known for her prominent lungs for quite a while. Wecklein seemed more confident on this outing than in the past. For instance, he cut loose with a full-blast version of Johnny Ray's weeper 'Cry" from the '50s.
Naturally " in a city where diners sit around the table talking about where they're going to eat next " food came up for discussion. The perilous topic of gumbo, for instance. What's in that gumbo? Could be anything. 'Just reheat it / Close your eyes and eat it / And don't forget to say your prayer."
The utterly weird, not to say X-rated, ritual of crawfish consumption was touched on. 'Break off the head and stick your tongue in!" Allen instructed, pleased as could be. 'I seen it make a Yankee faint / You think I'm kidding, but I ain't!"
This kind of show is not about fine points and finesse. It flies or crashes and burns on the spirit of the performers. Technical difficulties, like occasional problems with a microphone, bothered no one. At one moment, Allen was twirling a baton while acting the part of a schoolgirl from Memphis. The baton got tangled with a mic cord, but Allen soldiered on.
Speaking of soldiering on, I noticed Allen during intermission in the stockroom of the bar going over the list of songs for the second act of the show. This stockroom, piled from floor to ceiling with stuff, was her dressing room. No star on the door. No privacy. Vaudeville in all its squalid authenticity.
Although the Crescent City navel gazing didn't put me off, I found some heartstring pulling transparent and unconvincing. A gospel number, for instance, left me cold. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Cutter's cabaret much more than I expected too. Keep an eye out for demented divertimenti of this kind. They can pop up like mushrooms at unexpected times and in unexpected places. The infectious spirit of fun and camaraderie may win you over in spite of yourself.
- Longtime collaborators Chris Wecklein, Becky Allen and Harry Mayronne Jr. staged an evening of cabaret at Cutters in Marigny.