Taimak Guarriello and Rachael Robertsin Road House(Photo © Nick Andrews)
Taimak Guarriello and Rachael Roberts
in Road House
(Photo © Nick Andrews)
We're pleased to report that America need no longer import oil from overseas: We have discovered a fossil fuel source that provides almost inexhaustible energy when combined with fearless actors and wildly creative direction. The fossil is the Patrick Swayze movie Road House -- and oh, what a combustible experience is the irreverently staged hommage to Swayze's cheesy, bare-knuckle action film that's now on view at the Barrow Street Theatre!

The cheese factor is raised to Kraft level in this Road House, a fast, furious, and funny send-up. The simple sketch of the story is set in a rowdy, lawless bar where our hero, Dalton (Taimak Guarriello) is put in charge to keep the peace. There's a bad guy who runs the town (as well as the liquor supply) and a romantic triangle that involves a beautiful female doctor loved by both Dalton and the villain. Mostly, though, Road House is about fighting.

Director Timothy Haskell pulls stunts, gags, tricks, and surprises out of his sleeve as if he were a magician on speed. From hilariously awful wigs to elaborately choreographed brawls, the sensibility that's expressed here is that of pure, unadulterated creative mayhem. Youthful and joyful, Road House is ultimately defined by its own exuberance.

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Joyce Breach
Joyce Breach
Remembering Mabel Mercer

Mabel Mercer is a name that many in the cabaret community know if only thanks to The Mabel Mercer Foundation's annual Cabaret Conventions, but a much smaller number can claim to have experienced Mercer's musical stylings in live performance. It's therefore a smart and useful thing that Joyce Breach has created a show called Remembering Mabel Mercer. Recently seen at Danny's Skylight room, the show is structured around songs that Mabel either performed or recorded (or both) and filled with engaging anecdotes told with an easy, natural grace. We hope it will return soon because it's a must-see for anyone who wants to know more about the singer that Frank Sinatra considered his favorite.

Breach sings with a hint of sadness in her voice. It's not a cry, it's more like the memory of a long-ago heartbreak. That's why she sings songs like Mabel's "Blame it on My Youth" (Oscar Levant/Edward Heyman) and "How Little We Know (Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer) with such conviction and honesty. Even numbers that have a comic edge are honed with a knowing, hard won attitude; we're thinking here of her sly rendition of Bart Howard's "Sell Me." In the final analysis, Remembering Mabel Mercer reveals as much about Breach as it does about Mabel. And Mabel would have loved that.

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Michael Conley
Michael Conley
More Hits Than Misses

We are usually wary of young songwriter/singers who present a show that consists entirely of their own work. They may have crafted one or two songs of real merit, but what about all of those also-rans? It was with this concern -- okay, call it dread -- that we ventured into Michael Conley's debut solo cabaret act at Don't Tell Mama, an act consisting of all original material written by Conley in collaboration with Matthew Loren Cohen (who doubled as the show's musical director).

Most of the team's songs tended toward the comic, and the laughs landed with surprising regularity. That's no small achievement. A compelling performer who has both presence and poise, Conley is a good enough actor to make the ballads work but his forte is definitely humor -- and that was nowhere better displayed than in his inspired rendition of "Phoning It In."

Make no mistake, Conley and Cohen are a composing team to watch; their ratio of hits to misses is very impressive.