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.)
By contrast, nothing about Sister Act, now onstage at Fair Park Music Hall and moving to Bass next week, even attempts such a radical assault on its audience, unless you count how your ears are blasted by a Motown-infused score by composer Alan Menken.
Adapted from the Disney film with Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Act places aspiring lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier in hiding in a shabby inner-city convent after Deloris witnesses her boyfriend murder a guy. Her old school chum Eddie is the cop who knows where she’s holed up, but that doesn’t help the Mother Superior, who finds her sinful ways disruptive to discipline.
Let’s face it: You know where the plot is headed — who couldn’t? Each side (hot and cold, sinner and savior, solemn and vulgar) scores its points, and the result is both learn from the other. But shows like this are about the journey, not the destination, and the songs (which mimic everyone from Tina Turner to Curtis Mayfield to Barry White). The production is so energetic and joyous, and the characters so engaging to be around, it’s hard to mind when it gets silly. All musicals should be this much fun. (Through June 16 at Fair Park Music Hall; June 18–23 at Bass Hall.)