If a half-dozen Englishmen found themselves on some barren, windswept peninsula three days after the end of the world, they would separate into two groups. Three would form the audience. And the other three would put on an amateur show. I don't know of any direct culture or genetic connection, but that limey "let's put on a show" spirit is alive and well in Slidell.
Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know, currently on the boards at Minacapelli's Dinner Playhouse, is amateurish. I know that sounds like a put down. But, in this case, it's not meant to be. Secrets is amateurish in the best sense of the word -- the half-dozen-Englishmen-at-the-end-of-the-world sense. Let me put it another way, the show is everything that slick is not. You can just relax and enjoy it. The packed audience on the night I was there enjoyed it immensely.
Secrets is a musical revue based on Wendy Perrin's popular book of the same name. All the inconveniences and irritations of a globe-trotting vacation get a thorough going-over. And there are a few satiric barbs that take reality just that extra step into the surreal. For instance, soaring through the clouds on Miracle Airlines, we hear a voice over the intercom asking the gentleman in row four to please return your flight attendant to her full upright position. What a deliciously silly and plausible-sounding request. You almost remember having heard it somewhere.
Or then again, the captain announces: "We will be landing in Uganda in five minutes. For any passengers needing wheel chair assistance, tough!"
Perhaps the closest this nonsense gets to verisimilitude is a running gag about an automated telephone menu. A man turns up from time to time, wearing a robe and holding a cordless phone. With a diabolically cheerful lilt, the mechanical voice in the phone frustrates any attempt this potential customer makes to accomplish anything. When he finally shouts in desperation that all he wants is information about a ticket, he is breezily told that information is not an option.
Airlines are not the only target in this travel-savvy singing symposium. Cruise ships also take some hits. In a number about the joys of eating buffet-style, one guy croons that his sweetheart "loves to see me sup, because I always get it up -- after buffet." That's about as salty as the lyrics get, by the way. So you can bring grandma and the kids.
Speaking of the lyrics, they tend to be witty and have a tin pan alley zest about them -- for instance, "ruins" rhymes with "Aztec doin's." While a song about cultural differences in the global village instructs us that:
"In Rwanda, Tootsie's not a Dustin Hoffman movie / in Tel Aviv, eating pork's not groovy."
Other tortures besetting the frazzled tourists include inexplicable customs delays ("so much fuss about a box of worms!"), lost luggage, car rentals, Trailway buses, useful foreign phrases and honeymoons.
Secrets is performed by a cast of four: Joan Colette Spraggins, Naimi McAndrew, Terence Foster and Rickie Luke. These four sing and clown around in short skits. But, mostly they sing. There's also catchy piano accompaniment by Michelle Strain.
Minacapelli's is not generally known for high production values and this show is no exception. The songs are performed in front of a simple backdrop decorated with a few travel posters. An upright piano is on the stage. The costumes tend to be simple.
Although the singing is uneven, the good-humored dottiness of the cast generally wins you over. Joan Colette Spraggins, it should be noted, has an impressive set of pipes. She can cut loose, as well as cut up.
Now, you may wonder who wrote the book and the music and the lyrics. The playbill says "a Wendy Perrin Musical Comedy Review," so I guess the credit goes to her. Who directed Secrets? Once again, the program is delphic. When in doubt, at Minacapelli's, I usually suppose that Rickie Luke is at the helm. After all, he is the owner, producer, artistic director and MC.
The uncertainty about who did what brings us full circle to the subject of amateurism. The fictional half-dozen Englishmen at the end of the world would no doubt be more focused on entertaining, than on getting the credits right. Please understand, I don't mean to spread an apocalyptic gloom over the festivities in Slidell. But, we recently came as close to the end of the world as any of us ever care to get. So, maybe amateurism (in the best sense of the word) is just what the doctor ordered.
- Joan Spraggins, Terence Foster, Rickie Luke and Naimi McAndrew in Secrets Every Smart World Traveler Should Know.