There's something of a competition underway in Sacramento. The Cosmopolitan Cabaret and the Sacramento Theater Company are competing for the community's funny bone with shows that are very much alike. Sac Theatre is presenting a dizzy little show called "Ruthless," while the Cosmo, is offering a bubbly parody called "Forbidden Broadway."
These shows have a lot in common. Each features a cast of four grown-up singers, and a hard-working pianist in the shadows. They take place in cozy venues with less than 200 seats. Both are verbally fueled by puns, and double entendres. And you could measure the serious dramatic content of each production using a thimble.
The Sacramento Theatre Company's "Ruthless" stars Michael R.J. Campbell. He's built like a football player. But when he wears a pretty dress and a lot of makeup, he becomes a domineering woman named Sylvia, whose specialty is turning cute kids into stars.
The laughs stem from this big burly guy playing a grand dame, and of course it isn't long before he breaks into song.
"You'll never have to hide - NO! - you've got talent! And I'll be by your side to guide that talent!"
"Ruthless" is a campy remake of "Gypsy," with a few other film classics mixed in, exploring the dark side of ambition in a lighthearted way.
Meanwhile, at the Cosmopolitan Cabaret, "Forbidden Broadway" debunks hit musicals and celebrities. Here's a priceless takedown of Carol Channing, by an actress wearing huge eyeglasses and an incredibly broad smile.
"Tell us, Miss Channing, why are you touring in 'Hello, Dolly' - again!"
"W-e-l-l-l-l… some people act, some people dance… I do 'Hello Dolly!"
I actually interviewed Miss Channing a few years ago, and this impersonation had me in stitches.
"Forbidden Broadway" slays another sacred cow when a grown-up actress in a curly red wig comes out dressed like a child, but smoking a cigarette, and looking bored.
"I'm thirty years old - tomorrow - and I haven't worked since I played 'Annie,' when I was ten…"
This is a better show than anything the Cosmo has staged recently -- the formula involves short scenes blending famous show tunes with new, satirical lyrics, some of which are very clever.
So which show comes out on top? "Forbidden Broadway" has a slightly stronger cast, and the famous melodies resonate more than the original tunes in "Ruthless." But Campbell's drag performance in "Ruthless" is more impressive and sustained than the brief, kaleidoscopic episodes in the other show. "Ruthless" tells a story with a beginning and an end, while "Forbidden Broadway" is a satirical smorgasbord.
The real winner of this friendly little theatre competition is the audience. These two companies have created shows with plenty of appeal for lovers of humorous musical theatre revues. And my hunch is that there are enough ticket buyers to support both.