Review: The Kinsey Sicks in ‘Oy Vey In A Manger’ at The Palace Theater (*****)

by Charles Kruger

 

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Okay, let’s get one thing straight.

Um, revise that. Let’s get this perfectly queer: The Kinsey Sicks don’t suck (as acapella singers and drag divas). They are faaabulous. Think  of the best of “Ballet Trockadero,” or “The Cockettes,” or “Tranny Shack” or any other of the most celebrated and gaymous (gay famous) performing troupes you can recall. None have produced better work than this “dragapella” ensemble.

The material is outrageous, and, not to put too fine a point on it, filthy fun. If you can’t stand the heat, quit yer bitchin’ and get out of the kitchen. The premise: four drag queens have decided to sell the home where they have lived for two millenia to cash in on  gentrification (“the Nubians moving out; the sodomites moving in”).  It just happens to be the very manger in which Jesus Christ was born. Ridiculous?  Yes. Does it work? You bet!

If this performance were nothing but dirty sacreligious jokes, I wouldn’t be waxing so enthusiastic. For The Kinsey Sicks, execution is everything. Each of these performers have Broadway level chops: their cabaret artistry is unflagging.

Baritone Nathan Marken trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and his superb singing does that institution proud. Lyricist and performer Ben Schatz had a previous career as a lawyer (educated at Harvard Law School, believe it or not), founder of the first national AIDS legal program, and appointee to President Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV AIDS. Trust me, you have never heard dirty jokes (peppered with sophisticated political satire) written with this kind of wit. Imagine Benny Hill, in drag, combined with Barney Frank, with a Broadway set of pipes.

But wait! There’s more: Jeff Manabat (whose drag persona and performing skills rival Ru Paul) was once the director of UC Berkeley Men’s Octet, which he led to a first place win at the National Competition of Collegiate A Capella at Carnegie Hall. (Carnegie Fucking Hall!) And squaring off this quartet is Spencer Brown, former Queen of Kansas City Pride, and graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.

Why all the resume information? Because I want to get across to you that these guys are fantastic performers and musicians. They may be performing blue material in drag as “America’s Favorite Dragapella® Beautyshop  Quartet,” but their vocal skills are prodigious.

And the material? Their arrangement and performance of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” could not be improved upon by members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But I doubt that the Mormons would have adapted the lyrics as “I Ate Maria.” Nor would any member of the celebrated Choir wave a picture of Julie Andrews singing from the hilltops in “The Sound of Music” as a visual aid, while making tongue gestures that leave nothing to the imagination.

As for politics, my favorite piece was their adaptation of “Santa Baby” (“Anchor Baby”). Devastating.

All this and the Palace Theater, too! The Palace, for those not yet in-the-know, is the retro 1920s style cabaret space nestled within “The Speakeasy” performance venue in North Beach. It is the perfect setting.

End your holidays with a bang, not a whimper! Tonight is your last chance of the season. If you can get a ticket, you should go.

“Oy Vey In A Manger” continues for just one more performance, tonight, December 30, at the Palace Theater. For further information, click here.

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Rating:  ***** (for an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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