Friday, August 26, 2011

Millbrook: "Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class"

Showing for too-few nights, the Millbrook Community Players are showcasing the talents of Brooke Brown in a one-woman musical show, Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class, the latest in the cottage industry Nunsense productions. Accompanied on the piano by Katy Gerlach as Sister Mary Katherine, Ms. Brown's Sister Robert Anne takes us on a one-and-a-half hour ride that capitalizes on her strong singing voice and capable comic delivery.

Brooklyn born and street smart, Sister Robert Anne storms onto the stage, clicker and notecards in hand, to teach her students [us, the audience] how to put together a cabaret act, mixing this extended monologue with several songs and reminiscences of her past juvenile delinquent behavior & salvation from it at a strict Catholic school.

Dressed in a familiar black & white habit, though with colorful sneakers on her feet and a number of simple props to create moods or characters, Ms. Brown owns the stage and commands our attention -- this is done by direct address to us and frequent audience participation moments that audience members good-naturedly joined.

Though it might seem a strange vocation for this pugnacious Sister, her attitude is best expressed in Act II when Sister Robert Anne says: "If you love what you're doin' the payoff is great." -- And Ms. Brown clearly loves what she's doin'. She relishes in impersonating Bette Davis and Ethel Merman, admires Elvis, and knows that there are several ways to "become a star" -- the convent being somewhat unconventional, but with a payoff.

When she lets us in on some "confidential" [and possibly risque] editorializing or advice, Ms. Brown's quick aside comments are punctuated by knowing looks and an animated face, letting us in on secrets with a shrug or a wink & a smile. In short, we like her because she is just like us. And she can sure belt out a song, making the body microphone almost superfluous.

There are several "in" jokes from film and theatre that are delivered so quickly we hardly have time to register them, but just as in any class, we are meant to pay attention.

On a technical note: the lighting kept Ms. Brown in shadow for much of the performance; simple adjustments to the aim & focus of the instruments would let this talented actress be seen to best advantage.

There are only a few performances of this good-natured production, and the Millbrook Community Players are also dishing up a tasty buffet dinner with the show.