Michael Holland and Karen Mack in Gashole
Michael Holland and Karen Mack in Gashole
Cabaret artist Karen Mack and pop singer Michael Holland have combined their talents to create a breezy act with the unappealing yet strangely memorable title Gashole--and they have also created a new drink with the same name. The show is an unplugged (hooray!) trip back to the 1970s that features upwards of three dozen songs from that dizzy decade; the drink is a brand new alcoholic concoction spiked with Guyana's favorite beverage, Kool-Aid.

Gashole (the show) is subtitled "The Wit and Wisdom of the '70s," and we wonder why Mack and Holland didn't add a question mark at the end of that phrase. There is no question, however, that these performers make an appealing pair. This may not be the definitive 1970's show, but the music flows and the singers sure do sound swell. Though they're appearing in a cabaret room at Don't Tell Mama, Mack and Holland joke that this isn't really a cabaret show. But it is. Pop music--like show tunes, country music, gospel, jazz, etc.--has found a happy home under cabaret's expansive umbrella.

The performers' genuine affection for the music of the 1970s is apparent, as is their pointed attitude toward that time. Gashole is a freewheeling foray into everything '70s, from ABBA to The Carpenters. Okay, that's not a particularly wide (or deep) spectrum, but Mack and Holland are more interested in fun than in furrowing anyone's brow. If they really wanted to delve into the music, they would have put their many and not-so-varied medleys together more carefully. Why, for instance, do they perform an "ABBA medley" that includes Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves"?

Though they pump up the song list with several such medleys of dubious distinction, they fare much better with individual selections like Mack's rendition of "Telephone Man" and Holland's version of "A Case of You." A duet that combines "Can We Still Be Friends?" and "You Belong to Me" is a standout. (By the way, this sort of mixing of songs to create a unique hybrid is a distinct feature of cabaret. Just thought we'd mention that!)

One of the more compelling reasons to catch Gashole is the opportunity to hear Karen Mack sing. Her voice is rich and textured, yet bright and vibrant. Michael Holland's vocal instrument is less unique but blends exquisitely with Mack's; their duets sound particularly sweet. Holland distinguishes himself further as a musician, playing guitar and piano and also serving as the show's musical director/arranger.

Gashole includes trivia contests and plenty of give-and-take ad-libbing between its stars and the audience. We've seen other 1970s shows that look at the era with a more discerning eye, but this production--originally commissioned by The Storefront for its "Arts for AIDS" project--is unpretentious, engaging, and very successful on its own terms. You can enjoy it at Don't Tell Mama on Thursday, December 13, at 8pm or Wednesday, December 19, at 9pm