As the Capital Fringe Festival reaches its final full weekend, Toni Rae Salmi rocks it as singer Wanda Jackson, says Cassandra Miller, while Roger Catlin looks at the sketch comedy “Clickb@it.”
“Help Me, Wanda!”
“Help Me, Wanda!” is a big #WCW — woman crush Wanda. Creator and star Toni Rae Salmi takes major inspiration from rockabilly wailer Wanda Jackson to craft an entertaining and well thought-out cabaret act that could have you crushing on both songstresses.
Petite, tattooed and with a dark pixie cut and a short, sequined racerback dress, Salmi does not look old enough to reference hard times in her early 40s, as she does in the show. On opening night, she had the energy of someone thrilled, but in a little disbelief, that she was performing her own solo act. Although Salmi has decades of experience as a performing artist, “Help Me, Wanda” is indeed her first one-woman cabaret, which she wryly explains was put off because she was “helping other people realize their own dreams.”
Salmi’s rock/Broadway voice fits well on the songs she covers, including Jackson’s 1960 Billboard Top-40 hit “Let’s Have a Party.” Salmi especially shines when she almost growls choruses to rock songs, including Elle King’s recent “Ex’s and Oh’s.” Salmi threads her own story with Jackson’s, who has become a sort of spiritual role model for Salmi. She is a gritty, independent woman who, when asked if Elvis was a good kisser, would respond, “Well, I’m a good kisser.”
Jackson dated, and toured with, Elvis. She also toured with Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, and more recently Jack White and Joan Jett. On opening night of “Help Me, Wanda” at the appropriately selected venue, Solly’s U Street Tavern, Jackson, at 79, was performing in California.
Jackson is not the only one with defiant stories. Salmi explains how she gave a girl a black eye in school after being called a “maneater” — a perfect segue into a cabaret/rock rendition of “Maneater.” Salmi is backed by a talented band, led by music director Felix Pages, who also sings backing vocals and has written a song for the show. “Help Me, Wanda” feels like a party, and Salmi is a charmingly vulnerable and wickedly talented host.
75 minutes. July 21 and 22 at Solly’s U Street Tavern, 1942 11th St. NW.
If you’re lamenting the decline of the written word, you might take hope in a Capital Fringe play that passes out ballpoint pens to start.
Is it for a participation essay portion of the play? Or at least to fully write down instant reactions?
Nope. The reason the audience of “Clickb@it” gets pens is so it can literally click them.
Given three themes for a potential skit in the slow-moving sketch review, patrons click their pens for response (rather than, say, clap and cheer). Clickbait, get it?
That’s about par for the humor from the fully clothed Naked Theatre Company, who as a group “devised” the piece that was “conceived by Rachael Murray.”
Not only did the results largely fall flat, I’m not convinced they always chose the loudest click reactions each time.
Given a chance to expound on online phenomena of the past decade, they choose the most obvious (impersonations of famous online cats) and spend a lot of time acting out hashtag phrases as if in slow-motion charades. Somebody walks by with a business placard; he’s chased off for being a pop-up ad.
It’d be one thing if they just came up with these ideas at the last minute, but the group explains it’s been working on ” the piece for nearly a year, including at fall’s Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival. That explains a certain staleness to some of the material. But they also claim to have rewritten parts even during the current run. If that includes the “covfefe” bit, maybe they shouldn’t have.
The six-piece ensemble would have been better off developing parts that worked, such as an Alexa-type answer device that gets between two couples, or a 12-step program for Internet addicts.
Nobody exactly threw their pens at the stage, but I suppose that could have served as a non-writing participatory reaction as well.
80 minutes. Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE. July 22.
IF YOU GO: Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.
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