Charleston native Dana Friedman directs this little gem starring Sarah Ogden and Mitch Raftery, two outrageously talented performers who wow the crowds in a little burg called NYC (it’s north of here and has tall buildings). Ogden, by the by, is also a Charleston gal who, like Friedman, did her early theater time with Ashley Hall and the Charleston Stage TheatreWINGS program.
Raftery was born in Nebraska before moving to the big city, but we’ll forgive him for lacking Lowcountry roots because, child, the guy’s got style. Seriously, there is utter mastery in his vocals, replete as they are with comic inflections (there was a little something-something in his voice that reminded me of Meat Loaf at his early best; a kind of bourbon-soaked cabaret Meat Loaf — now there’s a dish for you). It takes skill to get a song just right, a little something extra to be able to have fun with it while doing it right.
And that’s just his vocals. His piano playing adds a whole other layer of coolness to the mix.
Ogden and Raftery breezed through love songs, exchanging witty repartee in-between. At times, Ogden spoke of being young and in love, and Raftery countered with some old-soul wisdom. It was good stuff, real cabaret entertainment. The best cabaret is often the stuff that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, a little bit world-weary but still ready and willing to have some fun in the travels still to come. Blur your eyes a bit and this could just as well be taking place in a Greenwich Village piano bar, or maybe Don’t Tell Mama in Hell’s Kitchen.
There’s a medley of love songs from the 1980s, paying homage to old school prophets of love like Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, and Heart.
There is talk of the early, painful first stabs at love, unrequited love, love that makes you want to strangle a special someone, and long-lasting love. Hey, as Ogden reminds Raftery in the aforementioned repartee: love is in the title.
There is an operatic aria and French torch songs. And if you’ve never heard Ogden sing, prepare to leave smitten. She will beguile you with her range, bewitch you with silky smoothness. The deft juggling of high art classics with pop only adds to the fun. If love is nothing else, it ought to be fun.
For the themes to the James Bond classics “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever”, as well as the sultry standard “Whatever Lola Wants”, Ogden brought out a Muppet to assist. Yes, a Muppet. It worked and worked well. Go figure.
The cabaret wrapped up with a soulful rendition of James Taylor’s “Carolina in my Mind” that could have really been something with just a bit more audience participation. A lot of lips were moving in sync to the lyrics — it was sort of like what happens in a lot of churches on Sunday — but no one except the stars on stage seemed to have the nerve to really make their voices heard.
Ah, well, we’ll chalk it up to being an afternoon showing. Let the natives of Charleston get a couple of drinks down after sunset, then strike the opening chords of Carolina and see what happens.