Tamarie Cooper’s OLD AS HELL! is Jocular, Vivacious, and Heartfelt
Tamarie Cooper's OLD AS HELL is meh. NOT! In fact, this year's offering in the cherished tradition of Houston theatre's summer line-up sparkles with clever wit and ebullient hilarity. This may only be my second summer to see a Tamarie Cooper musical, but in so many ways I found this one better than last year's raucously irreverent DOOMSDAY REVUE. Maybe with one Tamarie Cooper show under my belt, I had a better idea of what to expect. Maybe like a good wine Tamarie Cooper is only getting better with age. Or maybe it's both. Regardless, I sincerely wish I had been there to see them all.
In this year's program conceived by Tamarie Cooper, with a book by PatRick Reynolds, music by Miriam Daly, and lyrics by Tamarie Cooper, Miriam Daly, Miki Johnson, and PatRick Reynolds, Tamarie Cooper's annual festivities are interrupted by the Theatre Police. They cite that she in violation of Theatre Law 42.42, which states that she is too old to be the ingénue. The police then force her to give the role of Tamarie Cooper to a young member of the ensemble. Refusing to let some silly law stop her, Tamarie Cooper then goes on an epic quest through Hipster culture and the Internet to confront middle age headlong and prove that she still has the gusto, nerve, and talent to be the star regardless of her age.
Direction and Choreography by Tamarie Cooper keeps the energy high and the show fresh. The entire performance is played with an infectious, giddy charisma that is only matched by the eager audience's electric excitement pulsating though the room. Throughout a majority of the almost 90 minute production, only a few seconds pass between the successive string of laugh out loud moments. Standouts include the fantastic rolling chair choreography for the Internet trolls' rousing number "Meh," the spirited recreations of cyberspace on stage, and the dry and hysterical band of Hipsters. Everything from light chortles to booming guffaws are effortlessly drawn out the audience through the droll word play and fabulous sight gags.
Staring as herself, Tamarie Cooper delights and charms the audience with her bubbly stage persona and indomitable spunk. She surprises the audience with some mesmerizing feats of athleticism and, as always, snuggles up with our hearts as she explores the shared fears and anxieties of our culture. Moreover, she never misses an opportunity to turn a shared experience into a relatable and invigorating joke with a sophomoric surface and an astonishingly deep current of relevant social commentary underneath.
Kyle Strudivant, credited as Tamarie Cooper's leading man on stage and in life in her director's note, pristinely employs his zanily over-the-top acting chops with precision and purpose. He delights and amuses with a slew of characters. Kyle Sturdivant is simply marvelous during the number "Just Take A Look At My Face," and his portrayal of Aches and Pains masterfully slays the audience with his astounding comedic genius.
As the Hipster Queen and Young Tamarie, Jessica Janes is phenomenal. She brilliantly plays all of her roles; yet, these two are the most memorable, enjoyable, and poignant. Her bored and disinterested Hipster Queen was remarkable, but her bright-eyed and dream-filled Young Tamarie was a divine reminder of my 22 year-old self, who was also self-assured and just knew that I'd be enjoying my professional life in New York City.
Whether playing a young Jason Nodler, Co-Founder of The Catastrophic Theatre, or Cancer, John Dunn is sublimely hysterical. He adroitly elicits numerous peals of laughter from the audience, entertaining us with his zealous and lively performances.
The remainder of the cast all does excellent jobs with their various characters. Outstanding and noteworthy performances include Shanon Adams and Andie Popova's conforming nonconformist Hipster drones, Noel Bowers turn as the sardonically angry Theatre Policeman Bob and omniscient Google, Sara Jo Dunstan's portrayal of Incontinence, DeWitt Gravnik's closed-minded Facebook friend Mike, Xzavien Hollins' fervent Nasty Rapper, Elissa Levitt playing Senility as an eccentrically batty old woman, Hoja Lopez's phenomenal powerhouse vocals as the Choir Soloist, Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers' sultry and seductive Sexy Towel Girl, Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott's sleazy Diego the Dangerous Soul Lover, Damon Price's feisty Old Folks' Home Man, Ellie Sondock's effervescing New Tamarie, and Abraham Zeus Zapata's overly exaggerated stereotypical gay hipster.
The small band, lead by Miriam Daly on keyboard, and featuring Chris Bakos on Bass, Cathy Power on Marimba, Glockenspiel, Flute, and Ukulele, and Kirk Suddreath on Drums keeps the music animated and energetic. Each number is played to ensure that it is catchy and stirring.
Set Design by Ryan McGettigan is reminiscent of variety shows from the 1970s. It is wonderfully versatile for the numerous locations that this show traverses.
Lighting Design by Kirk Markley, with assistance by Dustin Tannahill, sparkles with carefully selected and bright color washes that elate while elevating the pervading gleeful tone of the show. My favorite effects are how the lights used cause the computer screens on the prop computers to radiate with a light luminance and the trick lighting on a costume at the beginning of the Internet segment.
Sound Design by Chris Bakos, Bill Day, and Tim Thomson expertly mixes spoken dialogue, sung lyrics, the instruments being played by the live band, and sound effects to makes sure everything is heard at the perfect volume in the intimate venue.
Video Design by Tim Thomson mesmerizes with its and pristine recreation of the National Geographic TV specials. His video that takes audiences into the Internet is fascinating as well.
Costume Design by Tamarie Cooper and Kelly Switzer is fantastic. Whether the costume serves as a sidesplitting sight gag or is a glitzy ensemble for a lively musical number, each piece is affective and thrilling.
Property Design by Tina Montgomery is uproarious and inspired. There is not much I can say without giving too many laughs away, so you'll have to take my word on this one.
Tamarie Cooper's OLD AS HELL! is an endearing and vigorous kick off to the summer theatre season. The jocular, vivacious, and heartfelt performances make this mirthful musical romp one that will truly enthrall and gratify audiences all summer long. Simply put, Tamarie Cooper's OLD AS HELL! is definitely a show that should not be missed!