Tamarie Cooper’s Old As Hell Lights Up the Stage

The set-up:


It wouldn't be summer without a Tamarie Cooper musical – original, fresh and very definitely homegrown. Tamarie has a following, probably a large slice of Houston, and her multitudinous fans eagerly await her annual hot-weatherl offering.

The execution:

Some past shows have relied heavily on elaborate, colorful costumes, flashing lights, sequins and glitter, and a pace so fast that the humor and the wit flash by like an express train, an entertaining blur. Tamarie Cooper's Old As Hell is more tightly written, and – as the forthright title indicates – deals with the problems of old age. Tamarie is actually on the threshold of her middle years, but, hey, it's a concept musical.

The great fear of aging is not the aches and pains, the forgetfulness, the incontinence, though all these are faced ruthlessly here, but the dark, forbidding dread of being terminally . . . unhip. Death itself may hold no sting (yes, Death is here, in spades), but being unhip is the bourn from which no traveler returns.

The show is breathtakingly funny, approaching brilliance, and aided by consummate actors who seldom miss a chance to enhance the wit with pantomimic vulgarities. Kyle Sturdivant provides a bravura performance, and steals the final bows by pantomime gestures I better not describe, but watch him.

Some skits are X-rated. The classic porno scene where pizza is delivered but the orderer has no funds is skewered to a fare-thee-well, with Karina Pal Montano-Bowers sexy in a towel. Mercifully, a banner masks the actual action, but the timing, stagecraft, and surprise twist are all hilarious.

There are still elaborate costumes, but the feathers are fewer, and the costumes are wittier. The Internet trolls fill the stage, each with a laptop – and horns. Tamarie tries to regain hipness by latching onto "social media", about which she knows zilch, after 20 years of slipping flyers under doors. When Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott asks her: "Seen any good bands lately?" she is undone. His increasing disdain as he savors his victory is priceless.

The plot is that the show is closed down by policemen because Tamarie is too old to play an ingenue, and she is replaced by a younger actress, but fights to regain her fame, her hipness – and her boa. Noel Bowers is the senior policeman, who has always secretly wanted to play Peter Pan, and Sean Patrick Judge is the junior cop, and both are entertaining. Xzavien Hollins plays a hip rapper (and several other roles, as do all the actors), and he is the best of the dancers, with all the moves.

There is a final, amusing confrontation between Tamarie many years older but flashing back to "today", while the Tamarie of two decades ago (the excellent Jessica Janes) flashes forward, in a magnificent contrast of youthful dreams and present achievements. And Tamarie's achievements are substantial, indeed. Her enormous energy, expressive face and engaging persona light up the stage. She sings, she dances, she can still turn a cartwheel, and she can carry a show. She is wonderful, and if you haven't met her yet, there is no time like the present.

The exciting book is by Patrick Reynolds, and the engaging music by Miriam Daly, with several writers contributing the lyrics. The band (Miriam Daly, Chris Bakos, Cathy Power and Kirk Suddreath) is unobtrusively placed upstage but their talents sing out.

The verdict:

For an entertainingly good time, musical numbers filled with verve, witty situations, and deft satire, get to this annual jamboree of Tamarie Cooper and friends. You will love it.