The last thing I expected to see Friday night was a tap dancing skeleton singing an Al Jolson-inspired number.
But this is just a typical night at the Annoyance Theatre, home of perennial favorites Co-Ed Prison Sluts, Messing with a Friend, and Skinprov.
Last night I caught the closing performance of SALEM! The Musical — basically, a campy, streamlined and musicalized retelling of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Already I was looking forward to the show based on the title alone — you just know that exclamation point promises something good.
Written and performed by an all female cast of five, including Kayce Alltop, Allison Black, Elise Dubois, Ashley Thornton, and Lauren Van Kurin, this show is, in fact, a riot. Yes, it was completely stupid and offensive and crude. But that’s exactly why I loved it: It knows what it wants to be, and embraces it with irreverent glee and energy. It’s camp, it’s comedy, it’s cock jokes. It’s not Pinter or even Mel Brooks. It’s just silly, fringe musical comedy improv stuff.
Paranoia, intolerance and male empowerment are played to the hilt here, with the idea that women doing math or reading or thinking = witchcraftery serving as crux of the evening’s humor. “She’s…THINKING?? That evil, sinning SLUT WHORE!” That sorta stuff.
And then there’s the sickly mother of the virginal, young Abby (Dubois) — played by a skeleton. The very bones that, attached quite crudely to Ms. Black all dressed in black, perform a lively (relatively speaking) tap number to help her daughter understand that, well, life sucks. Especially when you’re a 12-year-old girl forcibly married to a perverted, abusive and much older shop owner (Dr. Grimes, played by the convincingly smarmy Alltop).
Dan Wessels composed the tunes, wrote the lyrics and plays the piano for this exclamatory musical, ranging from bright show numbers to samba to torch-inspired ballads. You get the sense the score was probably banged out in a day or two, but that doesn’t matter. The loose, improv approach works here.
You’ll note that even though the show has closed, I’m writing about it in present tense. It is my hope that this isn’t the last of SALEM!, and it comes back next year, and the year after, and the year after that. I wouldn’t mind making this a Halloween tradition.
For more information on the Annoyance Theatre, visit annoyanceproductions.com