City Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 569-6155
Through Feb. 13
One thing you can most certainly say about the Crank Collective's latest original musical: Despite the fact that the title begs for it, John Cecil, the show's writer, composer, and guitarist, had the good sense not to call it Drone: The Musical.
Instead, he calls it Drone: The Musical Comedy. Thank you, John!
The fourpiece band that Cecil fronts, including, in order of volume, Mikey Walters on drums, Chris La Cava on bass, and Jonathan Hoyle on trumpet and keyboard (and a little recorder, if I'm not mistaken), hides behind a mesh screen at the back of the stage and starts the show with a rocking overture. And while the show that follows doesn't quite live up to the overture, it is an entertainment, and there's a lot to be said for that. The musical numbers themselves are a bit underwhelming. The lyrics Cecil has written don't quite come up to the upbeat, Fifties-inspired music, and the choreography, while executed enthusiastically, remains somewhat pedestrian. However, the numbers always move the plot along; a couple of them, including a song about a wandering terrorist, are quite funny; and one of them, a ballad about initiating an affair, is strangely beautiful.
Speaking of the plot: Robbie and Jaime operate a surveillance drone that patrols the border hunting illegals. One day, Robbie is ordered to arm a drone in order to blow up a suspected terrorist before the evil one can plant a WMD. When Robbie kills the wrong man, everyone from the CIA to the president himself gets involved. Cecil uses this setup to include a plethora of humorous scenes about the shallow ineptitude of government; the manipulative, deceptive nature of television news; and, of course, relationships between the sexes. And while it's all stuff we've heard before, as is so often the case with live performance in Austin, the actors, all six of them, make it special, and every one of them has something to recommend. Christian Huey plays a Danish terrorist with overwrought confidence and the faceless president with overweening hubris and impatience. Kate Caldwell is appropriately brusque and confrontational as TV journalist Honesty Michaels. Harry Wodehouse is all impenetrable efficiency as the CIA chief. Stephen C. Jack carries a ton of vocals without amplification and does some impressive physical comedy with a Mexican telephone. Lucy Miller-Downing almost steals the show as the envious waitress Coral, but she can't quite wrest it from the grasp of Aden Kirschner as Jaime. Kirschner is an actress in the Bette Midler mode, without the vocal cords but considerably funnier. Kirschner turns Jaime into a twitching, flexible mass of confused hormones, and she's a joy to watch.
No director is listed for the show, but that's most likely because it's a collective – they all directed it. And while my bet is Cecil had a hand in most of the choices made, there's a looseness about the production that is eminently enjoyable. It's just like a group of friends decided to get together and do an extended piece of sketch comedy with music. And that's exactly what you'll get, should you attend.
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