It’s December 21, 2012, and something cosmically unhinged is erupting at the San Bernardino Community Center. Proponents of various end-of-the-world itineraries have gathered together, their theories including the Mayan calendar, the Book of Revelations, the I Ching, interplanetary collision, Native American augurs, technological meltdown, and the shrinking bee population. So why not come to “Doomsday Cabaret, where every day is closing day”?
That’s the sardonic gist of “Doomsday Cabaret,” and as evenings of rock ‘n’ roll and nihilism go, it’s wildly exhilarating. Michael Shaw Fisher’s mordant assessment of the End of Days, a smash at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, is unique, uproarious, thought-provoking, and superbly performed.
Before it begins, symposium organizer Gerald Cox (an endearingly fretful, dulcet-toned Nic Nassuet) follows emcee Ed Suddick (author Fisher, who is going places), who invites us to vote on the likeliest cause of global catastrophe. With the arrival of their fellow experts, this “rock musical of apocalyptic proportions” begins its tuneful, irreverent trek to eschaton.
Nathan Dugan (Joe Fria, as hilariously unfettered as ever) and Lorraine (versatile, rich-voiced Sarah Chaney), his wife, are a Christian couple who make their money decoding Bible prophecies. Gale Reed (Jake Regal, equal parts Woody Allen and Steve Carell) is a techno geek devoted to computer-generated statistics. This unsettles Deedra WitWit (the wonderfully hangdog Leigh Wulff), a crunchy-Granola scientist who resents being called bee girl. Then there’s Lady Vavoom (Liza Baron, archly sultry and soaring), the meta-Wiccan oracle of Planet X, and The Messenger (Mark Bemesderfer, deadpan and dead-on), a Hopi prophet of nature’s ordained disintegration. Rounding out this chaotic collective is pyromaniac Kurt Billie (scene-stealing, rafter-raising David Haverty), who, though uninvited, ultimately has as much reason to be here as anyone.
In the light-fingered hands of director Chris Raymond and musical director Michael Teoli (who provided additional music and the sharp arrangements) the show walks a perilous tightrope between sketch comedy and genuine comment without flinching. The band is incendiary, the designs suitably makeshift—particularly Matthew Richter’s deliberately cheesy lighting—and the comically and vocally ripe cast goes for the jugular with spine-tingling harmonic convergence.
As for the material, such song titles as “If You Love Me Light Your Car on Fire,” “I Ching Is the Thing” and “What Kind of World Makes You Feel Like an Asshole” give you some idea. Fisher’s lyrics aren’t always the most graceful, but they make their points smartly enough, with his melodies exactly the right side of generic. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the show reaches its final transcendence a tad hastily, and, as someone who voted in the pre-show, I question the absence of a number about falling plasma. These are quibbles, because overall “Doomsday Cabaret” is as effective a rock musical as anything since “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Armageddon itself won’t be half as much raucous fun.
Presented by Orgasmico Theatre Company at the Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Oct.27–Dec.21. (415) 994-4760 or www.doomsdaycabaret.com.
Critic’s Score: A