"The Hot Cheeto Revue in 3-D," a collection of songs, skits and improvisations currently at d.c. space, bills itself as "a new comedy outrage." That, alas, is a bit of an overstatement--rather like a Chevette calling itself a hot sports car or Farrah Fawcett calling herself an actress.
Checking in at just under 90 minutes with an intermission, the revue is loose-limbed and amiable in parts, but the Cheetos, as the five performers (four men and a woman) have dubbed themselves, haven't yet got enough crackerjack material to go the distance. Remove the dross, the half-baked, the not fully developed, and you're left with about 20 minutes of workable entertainment.
Best is a sketch eviscerating a fancy-pants Georgetown restaurant called Tre s Soup. The waiter is a "food transportation consultant" who insists on putting himself on a first-name basis with the customers, the menus are "meal listings," and the specialty du jour is yak "with a licorice carrying handle." There's also promise in "The Committee for the Development of the English Language." The five performers, spouting an unintelligible tongue, are meeting to coin English nouns for various common objects. Like scholars in a think tank, they debate and ponder and debate some more, finally coming up with such breakthroughs as "ash tray" (a refinement of "ish tra"), "book" and "brunette."
A 10-minute condensation of "Romeo and Juliet" is on the sophomoric side, however, as is a close-harmony rendition of "Walk on By," here reworked as "Wash Your Thighs." Setting up some predictable targets--shrinks, TV game shows, Muzak--the Cheetos fail to carry their comic attack to the unpredictable limits. Too often, the results tend to be cute, a somewhat unsatisfactory substitute for cutting. Interpolated along the way are a couple of songs by Stephen Schwartz ("Proud Lady," "It's an Art") that would make a nice break from the overall zaniness, if zaniness there were.
As a whole, the five performers--Richard Averbuch, pianist Roy Barber, Bari Biern, Michael Higgins and Scott Sedar--come across as good-natured types, which makes them pleasant, if not exactly side-splitting, company to keep. But only Higgins struck me as possessing an inherent sense of comedy.
He looks like a 1950s teen-ager, with deep dimples and innocent eyes. But within him, there is a fast-talking dervish just waiting to get out for a spin. As the waiter at Tre s Soup, he manages a slick marriage of unction and threat; as Mickey Mouse, confronted with his walking papers, he pipes his indignation in an outraged falsetto, and then pulls a gun on Uncle Walt; as a game show emcee, he reduces a housewife to pure gibber with his oily Bert Parks charm and a belligerence worthy of the KGB.
While his fellow performers are being merely mischievous, Higgins goes one step further. He uses comedy to stir up anarchy. Much of the material in "Hot Cheeto Revue" keeps him on a leash, but there is no question that he has the stuff to ascend to far madder realms. His is a talent that deserves exploration in a future showcase.
THE HOT CHEETO REVUE IN 3-D. With Richard Averbuch, Roy Barber, Bari Biern, Michael Higgins, Scott Sedar. At d.c. space July 27 through 29, and Aug. 10 through 12.