As they announce in the opening number of the 2012 edition of Uptown Players' fundraiser Broadway Our Way—the 10th BOW—the cast is willing to let their "Freak Flag" fly, singing that song from Shrek the Musical wearing outrageous costumes and with "we're here/get used to it" gusto.
They close the show on a similar note, this time dressed in their cocktail finest but still singing of the importance of being Y-O-U and not letting anyone take that away, in "Steal Your Rock and Roll" (from Memphis).
In between, there are many clever interpretations of show tunes from the other gender's perspective, lots of laughs and a number of tender moments. And in all this celebration of individuality, what's consistently driven home is that the players of Uptown have succeeded because there's remarkable talent on the stage.
This is the 10th Broadway Our Way, and the second in a row written and directed by B.J. Cleveland, who was the star of Uptown's first production, When Pigs Fly, which opened the weekend after 9/11. The annual fundraiser, in which Broadway songs are sung by actors of the opposite gender from the original performers, is wonderfully choreographed by John de los Santos and given astute musical direction by Kevin Gunter and Adam C. Wright, who lead three other musicians in the stage-right orchestra.
Cleveland's wit is in fine form in such musical classics as "Big Spender" (from Sweet Charity) and "Cell Block Tango" (Chicago), with the women hookers and prisoners of those shows performed by the male ensemble. "The Trolley Song" (Meet Me in St. Louis) gets a boy-meets-boy twist, reimagined on Dallas' McKinney Avenue trolley.
In the outrageously funny category are three tunes from The Book of Mormon: "You and Me (But Mostly Me)," "Turn It Off" and "I Believe." The latter two are performed at a meeting of W.O.R.M.S. (Women of the Revitalized Mormon Sisterhood), with Beth Albright hilariously playing an overalls dress-wearing sister wife.
Fiddler on the Roof's "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" gets a naughty remake as a tribute to the gay hook-up app Grindr ("Grindr, oh Grindr make me a match...").
Saturday night's special guest was Darius-Anthony Robinson, singing "Random Black Girl," about the one performer of color who's cast in a musical and, as expected, busts out with some fierce vocal runs. (In the 2009 BOW, Robinson performed the similarly themed "Stop the Show" from Martin Short's Fame Becomes Me, and it was also a hoot.)
Not to be outdone, Liza Minnelli, Joan Crawford and Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life perform the song "Dreamgirls" from that musical, and the twist is that these women are stylishly played with dead-on impersonation by Cleveland, Coy Covington and Paul Williams, respectively.
Tender moments come with tunes from Catch Me If You Can ("Fly, Fly Away" performed by Jeff Kinman and "Goodbye" from Sara Shelby-Martin); Kayla Carlyle doing "Flying Home" from Songs for a New World; and Rick Starkweather in "Honor of Your Name" from The Civil War.
In that same vein, Williams sings "Leave You?" from Follies, followed by Cleveland doing another song from that Sondheim musical, changing the lyrics of "I'm Still Here" to reflect his career as an actor and the history of Uptown.
Williams and Marisa Diotalevi co-host, and they make a knockout team. Both reprise their characters from Uptown's 2011 production of Paul Rudnick's The New Century, and have plenty of other funny bits throughout. Playing that increasingly tolerant Jewish mother gives Diotalevi a chance to perform "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" from Monty Python's Spamalot.
In the penultimate number, the entire cast does the stunning a cappella chorus version of "Somewhere" from West Side Story. Keeping with the show's theme (it's preceded by "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles), the line "there's a place for us" becomes an anthem for this theater and each of the performers.
Indeed, it looks like there'll always be a place for Uptown Players.