Tamarie Cooper back in motion at MATCH! After a four-year hiatus, the artist known for over-the-top musical theater is back at MATCH, beginning July 1.
by Chris Vognar
Tamarie Cooper wants you to know: “There will be dancing eggrolls.”
This isn’t the kind of content warning you expect for a live theater presentation. Then again, there’s nothing predictable about a Cooper show.
Cooper’s 25th autobiographical vaudeville, topical song-and-dance spectacular, the “Sticky Sweet Summer Show!” kicks off July 1 after a four-year hiatus due to planned time-off followed by the pandemic. The co-artistic director of The Catastrophic Theatre has done some virtual shows in the interim, but it’s not the same without a live audience, many of whom have been present for all 24 previous shows.
“It has developed a sort of cult-like following,“ Cooper says by phone. “Instead of being in therapy, I do these shows and the audience pays for my therapy session. It’s very loose. It allows us to sort of let our hair down and just laugh. I bring a lot of truth into it. If I can laugh at crazy things that have happened to me, sometimes even if you look at them as very tragic situations, then that’s how I process it.”
If you’ve seen past shows you might remember the singing, dancing bacon and doughnut (yes, there’s a theme here). Or the time she a tumble into the cat box at a high school party. These are big numbers with big supporting casts; Cooper shows present a way for her to express her love for musical theater. This year’s highlights will include Cooper’s sixth-grade disco dance-off nemesis Charlotte Lloyd, a sassy chair and a racist step-uncle named Roy. And dancing eggrolls, a tribute to the Chinese restaurant Cooper’s family frequents in her native Chicago.
“We definitely are acknowledging where we are at right now in the pandemic and coming out of it and trying to return to the conventions of musical theater and society and being a human in general,” she says.
Cooper, a classically trained dancer who attended Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, did her first show, then called “Tamalalia!, at the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art in 1996. The band Horseshoe played, and Cooper made everyone pasta. The following year she rented a yellow school bus and turned the show into a travelogue of Houston art facilities.
“I wanted to do it like a field trip,” she says. There were musical numbers and a fashion show in the bus aisle. “Not that many people saw that show because there were only 38 seats,” she says. The show has been stationary for the last several years.
Cooper points out that she has plenty of help, including her Catastrophic co-artistic director, Jason Nodler; Patrick Reynolds, who writes the book; and her co-star, Kyle Sturdivant. But the show is very much a reflection of Cooper’s personality: irreverent, boisterous, a little nostalgic and kinetic. That movement part, however, is proving difficult after the hiatus.
“Everyone’s complaining that we’re all out of shape and it seems harder,” Cooper says. “We rehearsed up until just now with masks, and we kept saying, ‘Oh yeah, the reason we’re out of breath is just because we’re wearing these masks.’ But I think it’s a combination of masks and sitting on our couches for the last few years. So we’re trying to tackle that right now, too.”
The show, as they say, must go on. Even if it’s a little out of breath.