The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers

The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, June 17, 2019

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

jpg” alt=”” width=”212″ height=”212″ /> Lori Fischer

It isn’t often that the Big Bad Apple, full of busy bustle and steadfast cynicism, gets a pastoral treat like Lori Fischer’s (pictured) musical The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers. The story concerns the Lashley Sisters, a country music duo, who return to their Tennessee home after the eldest sister, Lashley Lee Lashley, drunkenly crashes their tour bus, all but eviscerating their career (and bank account). This presents a series of comical challenges for the pair:

How will they make a living?
Will they ever sing in public again?
How long will Lashley Lee stay sober?

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Fischer’s writing excels in its homespun, country-fried charm. Hilariously specific detailing—meat and egg Jell-O, carport receptions, and the aptly named “Third United Separated Church”—all paint a vivid portrait of 1990s small-town existence. And the music (co-written with Don Chaffer) perfectly recalls the shoot-from-the-hip story songs of Marty Robbins, Lynn Anderson, and the like. The song titles, like “All You Can Eat Liver and Onions,” “Honky without the Tonky,” and “Jimmy Boy Brown and His Toy Poodle, Pudding,” practically speak for themselves.

Yet it’s the show’s relationships, to which Fischer gives a more-than-loving touch, that give the piece its most endearing quality. Alcoholic Lashley Lee, played by NYC cabaret mainstay Elaine Brier, is a whirlwind of egocentricity and sardonic indifference. Brier, who always nails the daffy and unexpected, proves she can also handle drama with a striking nuance that served as harsh undercurrent to Lashley Lee’s brash humor.

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Broadway’s Gabriel Barre, while young for the role, brought a quiet simplicity to the part of the Lashley patriarch who’s living with Alzheimer’s, and Don’t Tell Mama’s booking agent, Sidney Myer, unexpectedly nailed the role of Pastor Phil, finding just the right amount of sincerity and Southern charm to mask a few less-than-holy vices.

Even in a musical reading, there was a humble honesty to these performances. What could be played for laughs, ratcheted up to the hilt, was instead handled with a tender approach; a natural affection for these characters, each with their human flaws, became all but inevitable.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t genuine comedy. With these veterans onstage together, the meta-ness led the audience (and cast) to break up at some of the more unexpectedly honest moments.

Watching the reaction to Myer needing to “pray it out” as he considered whether to kiss Brier was a highlight.

Yet it’s Fischer herself, playing also-ran sister Junie, who clinches it. Her performance, uncluttered and authentic, carefully builds from back-up singer to unleashed comet.

With a voice that recalls a steel guitar and similarly tugs at your heart strings, Fischer dazzled with the unfettered “Lay Your Burden Down.” And one can’t but help root for her when that doe-like gaze transparently displays a cornucopia of emotions, particularly those of disappointment and hope.

Indeed, this evening, with its shameless optimism and folksy allure, was the perfect cure for those big city blues.

Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.