Tuesday, July 21, 2015

39 (2015-2016): Review of MRS. SMITH'S BROADWAY CAT-TACULAR! (seen July 17, 2015)

"Please Cough Up All Hairballs Before the Show Begins"
Stars range from 5-1.

Have you seen Carlyle? That’s the burning question David Hanbury, drag-queen star of MRS. SMITH’S BROADWAY CAT-TACULAR!, dares to ask in this cabaret-style show about his titular alter ego and her search for the black and white cat that went astray. Mr. Hanbury, 40, has been performing one version or another of this material for several years, mainly at out-of-town venues. He's now offering it to Off-Broadway theatregoers at the intimate 47th Street Theatre, where it was catnip to an audience of loudly purring fans at the preview I attended.
David Hanbury. Photo: Dan Norman.
Mr. Hanbury, an energetic singer, dancer, electric guitarist, and gender-crossing clown (with an MFA in acting from Brown, no less), is accompanied by the Broadway Boys, Brandon Haagenson and Ken Lear. These talented chorus guys, in black tie and tails, serve as comic foils and musical support (they sing, they dance, and Mr. Lear plays piano) for this campy expression of Mrs. Smith’s travails as she searches for her long-lost pussy. Regardless of that last sentence, however, CAT-TACULAR deserves a PG rating. While coated with the glow of a decidedly gay sensibility (in one of several audience participation moments, Mrs. Smith even asks members of the LGBT community to identify themselves), raunch is in the descendant, and blueness is restricted mainly to the lighting (by Alexander Fabozzi) and an outlandishly over-ruffled dress (one of many eye-catching but uncredited costumes).
David Hanbury. Photo: Dan Norman.
Mrs. Smith is a 14-times married diva who, while on an international tour, visits Poland, where her beloved Carlyle takes a powder, a cat-astrophe sending Mrs. Smith into despair as she searches everywhere for her furry feline. Unable to find surcease from her sorrows in the traditional therapeutic modes, she creates a musical show in which--to “cathart” her feelings--she reenacts her life story, albeit in a patchwork fashion, as she moves up the performance ladder from vaudeville to Broadway (although mispronouncing Ziegfeld as Ziegfield).
David Hanbury. Photo: Dan Norman.
Along the way, she sings parody versions of famous songs, such as “Cabaret,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “One Night in Bangkok,” “Swanee,” “The Ladies Who Lunch” (sung at a brunch for Pat Nixon), “Who Will Buy?,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” and others. But don’t expect straightforward renderings. No shtick is left unturned in mining the lyrics for laughs. usually by adding feline-oriented words, like changing “The Man that Got Away” to “The Cat that Got Away.” Too often, such thin humor crumbles into kitty litter.
From left: Brandon Haagenson, David Hanbury, Ken Lear. Photo: Dan Norman.
The show, “created” by Mr. Hanbury and Andrew Rasmussen, and directed by Mr. Rasmussen, is performed before two false prosceniums outlined in lights, with a glittery curtain for a background. An overhead screen provides many projections, both stills and videos, including an opening sequence that introduces the show in the manner of a 1950s black and white movie, showing an aerial view of Manhattan as fictional credits, few of them particularly funny, appear. A running video theme involves advice from Sylvia Cleo (Andre Shoals, in drag), Mrs. Smith’s New Age therapist; Carlyle himself appears on the screen, courtesy of Skype. Several puppets also allow him to get his paws into the action. 
From left: Ken Lear, Brandon Haagenson. Photo: Dan Norman.
The 85-minute show includes a sort of semi-intermission, during which the star takes a break while the Broadway Boys perform on their own. Also, while I’m not sure all performances will follow suit, the night I went the cast greeted the audience outside the theatre for autographs and photos.

Mr. Hanbury, pleasant and likable enough, sings capably (but not exceptionally),  and works very hard, scoring points by his enthusiasm and brio, but he rarely rises to the level of satire, insight, poignancy, and hilarity this kind of show demands. His is a league led by masters like Charles Busch, whose new show, THAT GIRL/THAT BOY, at 54 Below, provides a platform for his great diva character, Miriam Passman. Not to pussyfoot about it, David Hanbury is no Charles Busch and Mrs. Smith is no Miriam Passman. Still, if you're thinking of  visiting MRS. SMITH'S BROADWAY CAT-TACULAR! make sure to cough up that hairball before you go. Catti LuPone might be crouching in the wings waiting to pounce. . 

47TH Street Theatre
304 West Forty-Seventh Street, NYC
Through Septemer 20