Theater Review - Actor"s Express and the art of cover songs

Pajama-clad performers celebrate pop music classics for cabaret fundraiser

If your nightmare vision of a fundraiser party is some sort of pinkies-out, uptight affair with awkward chitchat, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the relaxed vibe of the Actor's Express Under the Covers cabaret event. This year's concert will feature performers from the Actor's Express family as you've never seen them before, singing some of their own personal favorite songs while wearing their pajamas.

Jessica De Maria is one of the performers on the bill, having starred in this past season's production of Murder Ballad as well as wearing her day-job hat as the company's development manager. De Maria promises that the event will be "a fun, familial night" with the artists performing non-musical-theater songs. The playlist involves the singers' takes on "covers of covers," providing a typically humorous take on the standard cabaret show. As an example, Jeremiah Parker Hobbs, who performed in last year's Rocky Horror at AE and will star in this summer's production of Rent, will offer his take on Celine Dion's version of Ike and Tina Turner hit "River Deep, Mountain High." The production will be "an interesting Inception-type performance," De Maria says. "It's an opportunity to really be at home with people that you love from Actor's Express."

Some of the other highlights of the evening will include Kristen Browne bringing down the house with Whitney Houston's spin on Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," as well as Kevin Harry (next season's Sweeney Todd) and Galen Crawley taking on Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary" (originally a John Fogerty/Creedence Clearwater Revival song). De Maria herself will perform a cover of Radiohead's "Creep" as well as a duet with Hobbs on the Civil Wars' cover of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm."

In addition to the songs, Harry will lead the crowd through a live auction featuring several Rent-themed items in anticipation of the company's summer musical. The items up for bidding will include a walk-on role in Rent, a candlelit dinner with friends prepared and hosted by AE's beloved Artistic Director Freddie Ashley, and the opportunity to have the theater's playwright Lee Nowell create a five-minute play about the winner. There will also be VIP packages up for grabs, including priority seating, drink vouchers, and a "totally '90s Snack Pack" (expect some Teddy Grahams) for the Rent performances, as well as the opportunity to have Harry's deep voice be the voicemail on your phone.

The party will also feature post-show snacks and a cash bar with a signature cocktail for the evening called "the Nightcap," and there's no need to dress to the nines — audience members may even want to wear their own jammies to feel like part of the crew. In general, you can expect the night to feel more like a warm, friendly party than a run-of-the-mill, stiff fundraising affair.

"When Actor's Express does these kinds of cabaret events, they are a really neat opportunity to be intimate with the artists," De Maria says. "And it's really great for us to go into the next season having the support of our community."

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