Friday, July 10, 2009

On-Stage: Cocktails at the Centre of the Earth

Welcome to the future promised to us in 1940’s science fiction serials. Now have a drink. You are probably going to need it, because bars have a habit of exploding in Simon Astor’s outrageous musical farce Cocktails at the Centre of the Earth, now playing a limited engagement at the Producer’s Club’s Royal Theatre.

The social structure of Cocktails is much like that of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where the rich revel in the skies and the drones toils below. In this brave new steampunky world of jetpacks and zeppelins, the workers pour the drinks, and the upper class gets hammered. It is all powered by a special rocket fuel refined from Egyptian mummies, a process that has greatly enriched the Moutarde family.

Cocktails begins its futuristic bar crawl in the terrestrial Albion Club. Two social climbers are putting the moves on the Moutardes, but since they accidentally fell in love with each other, their hearts really are not in it. Before long, the partiers are off to the next exclusive club, located high a flying airship. Then things start getting outlandish, culminating in the Omphalos Club at the center of the Earth.

It all comes accompanied by songs, which are surprisingly strong given Astor’s eccentric lyrics. As Sir Reginald Rakehell, he performs the surreal “Synthesia,” while composer Richard Grant dons the persona of the cowboy singer-songwriter Murray Eel for “Coral Corral.” Borts Minorts also contributes music and lyrics for the title tune, which he fearlessly performs in an uncomfortable looking skin-tight bodysuit, with some truly over-the-top choreography. The standout performance though, might well be Erin Blair O’Malley’s rendition of “The Woman from the Island,” as Paravion Concord, the lesbian rocketeer-chanteuse.

Although it is scripted show, Cocktails has the energy and comedic sensibility of an improv comedy revue. Sometimes the jokes are funny and sometimes they are groaners. Some of the material is a bit “naughty,” but never really explicit. Throughout Cocktails, Astor throws in enough genre tropes to satisfy sci-fi fans looking for an entertaining stage spoof. In fact, the android Daniel Engine and his somewhat mad creator Gepetta Odenkirk (played by Mordecai Knode and Lois F., respectively), greatly resemble characters in Mac Rogers’ Universal Robots, the philosophically challenging reimaging of Karel Čapek’s R.U.R., which ran downtown earlier this year.

To adapt Cocktails as a special effects-laded movie would be prohibitively expensive, but Astor and director Greg LoProto make do with a sparse set of a few cabaret tables and chairs. Its totally DIY sci-fi horseplay, but it frequently works, thanks to a game cast that obviously enjoys the on-stage lunacy. It runs through Sunday (7/12) at the Royal.