Miranda Sings is a bad show!
Or at least that's the response it's meant to elicit. But there's a lot more to this quirky cabaret performance than meets the eye.
In 2005, a small Internet startup called YouTube came online with the intention of making the sharing of videos with families and friends online easier. What it became though is the central clearing house for just about every video that makes its way onto the Internet and has grown to include entries from artists and filmmakers to how to's, talk and news shows, and talent showcases, among many other odd and/or mundane entries.
Among those posters, there's a heavy sampling of people attempting to attain some sort of fame via the Internet, whether they're trying to make a funny video that will go "viral" or genuinely trying to showcase talent. And it's the latter of those two that led Colleen Ballinger to create her own YouTube alter ego, mirandasings08, an utterly talentless singer with an odd personality and horrendous fashion sense who nonetheless believes herself to be extremely gifted.
As Miranda, Ballinger posts videos of herself in the character covering popular songs poorly (see two examples at the bottom of this review). And to boost the atrocity, she adopts an awkward, self-centered personality, dresses in mismatched clothes and applies lipstick more liberally than Tammy Faye Baker. It's a grotesque character for the modern age and a scathing satire on the countless people who post videos of themselves singing despite lacking the necessary talent to pull it off.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to making fun of bad singers on the Internet. As the Internet is wont to do, people took her seriously. And sure enough, her videos went viral and she quickly found herself thrust into that precarious category of Internet celebrity. And Ballinger, who is clearly a bright and talented woman, did what most anyone else would do in the situation. She embraced it.
However, as anyone who has been on the Internet for more than five minutes knows, there is an odd effect that the anonymity of speaking through a keyboard has on people. They become hate-spewing psychopaths and their home is the "comments" section.
So, perhaps because the Internet is some crazy postmodern distortion of reality, people thought Miranda was real and felt it was their duty to point out how woefully untalented she was, in the most horrific ways possibly, naturally. Her hate mail, which she reads some of on stage, is an art form all its own. It transcends anything Simon Cowell could ever muster and assaults the English language just as much as it does Miranda.
Not one to miss an opportunity, Miranda (Ballinger) changed her tune (pun intended) and became a hero of the anti-bullying movement with her legions of fans, sparking the credo "Haters back off." as a response to the negative comments on her videos.
And there's the hitch. The woman who started a talentless alter ego specifically to have fun at the expense of untalented people suddenly became their defender. It's a noble turn and completely understandable, but there's a little Stephen Colbert to this satirist performer in that she does most of her interviews in character as Miranda. So, there's little to glean in regards to her motivations or intentions.
The show itself, which was performed for one show only at WaterTower Theatre's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival on Sunday night and is viewed as a comedic take on a cabaret performance, is thoroughly entertaining. The character, at her roots, is funny. Ballinger has certainly hit on a wonderfully idiosyncratic creation and plays it wholeheartedly.
The performance is chock-full of the cover songs Miranda has become known for, accompanied by Dallas pianist Mark Mullino, ranging from stage hits like "All That Jazz", "Seasons of Love" and "Defying Gravity" to popular music like Katy Perry's "California Gurls" and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," which featured Miranda shoving her head into a cradle holding a baby doll's body and singing as the baby. A very Gagaesque move for a Gaga song.
But, as even she realizes an hour of just that would be unbearable even for the most ardent fans – and there were plenty in attendance—Ballinger has found way to reveal a little bit more about the character and the nature of the intended comedy with several bits.
First, she had local artist Max Swarner up to sing a duet with her, "I'd Give It All For You" from Songs For A New World. The comedy here lies in Swarner's clear talent and wonderful voice, especially in contradiction to Miranda's terribly off key and airy wailings. And in true Miranda fashion, at the conclusion of the piece, she shrugs off Swarner as untalented.
Later, Swarner made another appearance, this time to duet with Miranda on "A Whole New World." After an inauspicious beginning, in her opinion, Miranda made him put a towel on his head to act as a turban and they held a rug up to simulate they're flying. Despite the props, she was still unhappy with his performance and took over singing Aladdin's role.
Also getting in one the fun was another local artist, Denise Lee. First, Miranda offers Lee voice lessons. Lee sings "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" from Ain't Misbehavin'. Like Swarner before her, Lee is immensely talented and roused the audience with her performance. But, of course, Mianda is unhappy and proceeds to coach Lee on the intricacies of "high voice" and "low voice" and "vibrato," among other tips, eventually coaxing Lee to sing more like her.
In the middle of the show, Miranda did a segment on the "haters" in which she'd project an image from one of her videos on a screen behind her, proceed to sing a sampling of the song and then read for the audience some of the hateful comments left by people. This was the funniest part of the evening as the people who feel compelled to comment on sites like YouTube are clearly a different breed, and angry, and comically dumb. The remarks are rife with misspellings, poor grammar, swearing and capital letters. It'd be funnier if it wasn't such a sad commentary on the state of education.
Finally, Miranda had Lee come back up to help her with a magic trick in which, while she sang, Lee would appear to stab Miranda through the neck with a sword. For this part, Miranda chose "Think of Me" and delivered the knockout punch to anyone doubting the nature or authenticity of her act. For, when Lee would slide the sword through the contraption around Miranda's neck, suddenly the voice would transform into an angelic soprano completely opposite of the musical hack she normally is. When Lee would remove the sward, the bad voice would return. Here was Ballinger peering out from behind Miranda winking at the audience. Letting them in on the joke.
Andy Kaufman, she is not. Nor is she Tony Clifton. The comparisons have been made, and she might even benefit from a Clifton type foil, but they're not apt. Colleen Ballinger is Miranda. There's no veil for anyone who pays any attention. In fact, Ballinger herself has plenty of real videos on YouTube. It's simply an act. An entertaining act that seems to have taken a turn towards a positive impact and some really effective satire.
It's not without its problems and philosophical struggles, but Ballinger has hit on a character that reflects the zeitgeist of our time and does it with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
After all, it takes a lot of talent to be that bad.
◊ To see a complete schedule of shows and venues, go here.
◊ WaterTower is streaming several shows and events at Out of the Loop. To watch them on our site, click the US Stream icon at the top of this page. It will open a separate tab. The streaming schedule is also included there.