STAGE REVIEWS: ‘One.Man.Show.’ at The MAC, ‘Sister Act’ at FP Music Hall

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Tim Johnson goes bananas in ‘One. Man. Show.’

Tim Johnson comes onstage at The MAC as his cabaret act One. Man. Show. opens, playing a cross-dressing lounge singer who’s equal parts Courtney Love, Jackie Rogers Jr. and Janis Joplin. It’s in-your-face and disconcerting, and it’s not half of what’s to come in this brilliant confessional (which, if it gives you any indication, is not in fact a one-man show.)

Performance art like this can be aggressive — not primarily in the physical interaction with the audience, but the confrontational nature of owning up to your life. Johnson’s is almost Dickensian, if it weren’t so modern: A pawn in his parents’ divorce (including multiple kidnappings); drug addiction; mental illness; contracting HIV. And there’s more big stuff to come.

Johnson’s 75 minutes involve multimedia presentations (how strange a close-up feels in live theater!), re-created moments from TV, delivered verbatim (especially the Oprah show) and Vaudeville-like slapstick, all without a seeming purpose but really just fleshing out the random, pinball brain of a middle-aged man not sure how to look backward or forward. Brilliantly, it’s not self-indulgence run amok but searing self-examination. Daring theater like this is what Kitchen Dog’s New Works Festival was meant to encourage. See it. (Wednesday at 8 p.m., Thursday–Saturday at 9:30 p.m.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Shop’ keeper

Little Shop of Horrors may have the catchiest pop score composed for a Broadway musical in the past 30 years. There has been rock-ier, toe-tapping-er, more bombastic music written in that time perhaps, but for the sheer joy of storytelling through sprightly, smart songs? I can think of no comparisons. It remains the only cast album I ever purchased during intermission of its performance; even if there were no songs in Act 2, I reasoned, Act 1 was a worthy investment, starting with the anthemic fugue “Skid Row” and continuing through its pastiche of doo-wop choruses and power ballads like “Suddenly, Seymour.” (The team that wrote it, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, went on to be Disney’s resident writing geniuses: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.)

The production by WaterTower Theatre, now onstage in Addison, doesn’t do full justice to its very able source material. Long before Avenue Q, Little Shop pioneered the use of puppets to turn kiddie entertainment into something adult and disturbing: It’s Sweeney Todd with jokes.

Or it should be. There are missed comic opportunities in the story of schlubby floral shop worker Seymour (Jason Kennedy) who cultivates a man-eating plant to win the affections of abused shopgirl Audrey (Mary Gilbreath Grim, pictured with Kennedy). There are missteps in the design as well (the normally reliable Aaron Patrick Turner eschews character-appropriate costumes — Audrey for one should be a lot trashier — for pretty, tailored pieces that make no sense). But the magic of the show works its way through.

Grim does an admirable job turning Audrey, so closely identified with Ellen Greene’s idiosyncratic charm on film and stage, into her own creation, and the tango between Seymour and his boss Mushnik (Randy Pearlman) is winsome. But the star of the show is Alex Organ in a host of roles, most notably a sadistic dentist. Organ (gangly, limber, rubber-mugged) commits fully, throws himself physically into every scene. He’s funny, cruel, goofy, protean — and, along with the score, an excellent reason to patronize this Little Shop.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Through Aug. 21. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens