When cabaret singers start telling long, involved, heartfelt stories about how a certain pop song on the radio deeply affected their lives I usually take that as a signal to start jiggling the ice in my empty drink to see if I can come up with another strawful of water. Unless, of course, the singers in question are Joanna Parson and Lance Werth, and the voice on the radio is the Queen of Easy Listening, one Helen Reddy.
I've seen Reddy or Not, their proudly geeky salute to that 70's icon, twice before taking in a Fringe Festival performance. It's the kinda show that makes me email friends and say "Ya gotta see this!" So think of this as a mass email notification.
Portraying a starry-eyed combo whose social skills and maturity level have yet to graduate from junior high, Parson and Werth spend a gleeful hour sharing the magic of the woman who charmed America with "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (Andrew Lloyd-Webber's first hit single.) and stirred a movement that was still called "Women's Lib" with her self-penned Grammy-winning anthem "I Am Woman".
After a medley from her film debut in the semi-animated Disney flick Pete's Dragon, the pair spit up for those long, involved -- and in these cases hilarious -- heartfelt stories. Parson, a gifted comic actor reminiscent of Imogene Coca in the way she can twist her face into emotions that have yet to be defined, tells us how the song "Angie, Baby" helped her understand that lonely girl in school who had to take special classes. Werth, an amazingly boyish performer with an appealingly impish quality, relives a traumatic game of dodge-ball that helped make the song "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady" stick with him for life. Soon to follow are equally odd-ball celebrations of Top Ten hits like "Leave Me Alone" (Ruby Red Dress)," Delta Dawn", "Keep On Singing" and "You and Me Against the World".
Directed by Joseph P. McDonnell, returning to the Fringe for the first time since directing the 2000 Festival's groundbreaking production of Urinetown, the show never stoops to mockery of Ms. Reddy's music, nor of her fans. There's a loving touch that can be appreciated by anyone who gets joy out of anything considered dated, square or geeky. Musical director Barbara Anselmi at electric keyboard (Of course!) keeps everything soft-rock groovy.