You have to figure that for as long as there have been stage hits, there have been parodies of said hits. Because parodists—those clever souls who have a special, perhaps obsessive, funny bone—have always been out there. Can't you just imagine the wiseacres in ancient Greece who studied the work of au courant playwrights Aeschylus and Sophocles and then came up with their own back-room productions of Hagamemnon and Octopus Rex? (OK, so that translation wouldn't have made sense, but you get the point.)
In that spirit, Matthew Lord—an opera singer whose love of parody led him to create the 3 Redneck Tenors—has written something that lovingly mocks a cherished work of musical theater: Annie. Lord doesn't just target a sacred cow, he aims for the entire herd. Here, he takes on the epitome of family-friendly shows, the musical that audition holders curse when they're having little girls sing for them, and turns it into something that's all kinds of wrong. Meaning, wrong in many right ways, the kind of ways for which good parodists strive.
His show is Trannie: A New Musical Parody, having its world premiere at the little Grapevine theater Lord and his wife Jill co-founded, Ohlook Performing Arts. That scrappy little troupe is a school that teaches musical theater to children and teens and often produces family classics; but also does a late-night series of shows in which four-letter words and adult themes fly faster than leapin' lizards.
In this story, which also nods to Sweeney Todd, Oklahoma!, La Cage aux Folles and the movie Burlesque, 18-year-old Trannie (William Marshall Warren) is a boy who dresses like a girl and decides to search for her two fathers. They left her on the steps of Unplanned Parenthood when adoption rights for same-sex couples were cut in Florida.
With her friend Swallow (Mallorie Glowenke), she wanders through a world of prostitutes and ends up with performing in a nightclub owned by Big Daddy Morebucks (Evan Spreen). Performers Chad (Michael McCray) and Buster (Jake McCready) find a connection with Trannie, and the dominatrix host, Miss Cher (Stephanie Hall), takes Trannie under her leather studded wing.
Meanwhile, the woman who runs Unplanned Parenthood, the butch Ms. Rosie O'Mannigan (Samantha Padilla), and her brother Cooter (Matt Purvis), hatch a plan to pose as Trannie's parents when they hear Big Daddy is offering a reward if the parents step forward. Cooter is this show's version of Annie's Rooster, and O'Mannigan is a composite of Ms. Hannigan and Lily St. Regis.
Throughout the silly story, we get Annie-riffing songs like "It's a Knocked-Up Life" (sung by the prostitutes); "STD" (to "N.Y.C."), about the dangers of unsafe sex; and the lyrics of the original show's most famous tune become "I'm gonna come out, tomorrow." Matthew Lord wrote the book and lyrics, Jill Lord directs, and the story is based on an idea by Taylor Wallis and Jill.
The dog Sandy becomes a horny mutt named Randy (it's a stuffed animal and obviously male), there's a character called "Condom Girl" in the song "STD" (the condom dress is clever), and did I mention the club is called The Manhole? Oh, and you'll remember that in Annie, the nine-year-old girl has a locket that was handed down from her parents. In Trannie, the analogous piece is jewelry is a pearl necklace.
Don't think that joke goes wasted.
All of the above is a warning that Trannie is filthy and beyond irreverent, but that's the point. It often pokes fun at the innocence of the source, such as when Trannie naively announces "this is the nicest Manhole I've ever been in." And yet, there are a few numbers that manage to be affecting.
The show needs tightening and the production values are low (Ohlook did spend time and thought on costumes, though, especially for the Manhole's drag queens, who portray such gay icons as Barbra, Madonna, Dolly, Brtiney and Gaga). The opening scenes are disjointed, even if they follow the structure of Annie. Morebucks could stand to be a classier character, despite that he runs a joint called the Manhole.
As Trannie, Warren is endearing and has a fine voice; and Hall, who does quite a bit of musical theater in town, gets to show off her pipes (and a rockin' stomach) in the song "Something Was Missing" (that's the title of the song in Annie, too, sung by Warbucks; Cher translates to the Grace character).
Accompanying them is a sole keyboardist (Kelly Rodriguez on opening weekend, James McQuillen will do other performances), which gives it that charming, Forbidden Broadway-esque, rehearsal-studio feel.
Lord has done a terrific job of rewriting the lyrics to the Annie songs (not all of them are used); it's no stretch for him to rhyme "genius" with that word for a male member. He really has a field day with his take on the original show's "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover," which becomes "We'd Like to Thank You, George Bush, Jr." (See below for an audio recording of the cast performing this song.)
The lyrics blast Dubya's policies, getting in mentions of tax cuts for the rich, Scooter Libby, Halliburton, Iraq and "hypo-Christians." Yes, where Annie slyly works in political commentary through the backdrop of the Great Depression, Trannie goes for the jugular of any political train of thought that does not stand for equal rights for all.
In the end, it delivers a strong message about being proud of you. There's even a heartwarming slide show of famous people who have come out, from Rock Hudson to Lily Tomlin to Ricky Martin.
Despite its un-P.C. title (on the show poster and program, the letters "T" and r" are tacked on to the front of the Annie logo), Trannie demands acceptance for sexual orientation and gender identity. The character Trannie doesn't even explain why she feels different from the gender to which she was assigned at birth, as if there's no need to. Everyone in this story, even the villains, accept her for who she is.
The lyrics to "Tomorrow" say it all (and interesting, are in sync with the new single by one of the GLBT world's biggest advocates, Lady Gaga).
The original song goes:
"Tomorrow! Tomorrow! / I love ya, tomorrow / You're always a day away"
This new version:
"Tomorrow! Tomorrow! / I love ya, tomorrow / I know I was born this way"
For your listening pleasure, here's a recording of the Ohlook cast singing "We'd Like to Thank You George Bush, Jr." Warning: It contains strong language and content that will anger right-wingers. But chances are, they're not reading this.