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2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Death Is a Cabaret Ol’ Chum’ by REV Theatre Company at Laurel Hill Cemetery

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As you enter through the gates and into the courtyard of historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, you are offered your choice of a complimentary cocktail with an appropriately lethal name, while listening to recordings of immortal show-tunes, pop hits, and cabaret songs. Once the sun goes down, you are led through the dark paths of the graveyard, surrounded by monuments silhouetted against the heavens, before coming to rest amidst the final resting places of Philadelphians past, for a new incarnation of REV Theatre Company’s undyingly-popular Death Is a Cabaret Ol’ Chum. The immersive site-specific “Graveyard Cabaret” – conceived and created by Rudy Caporaso, directed by Rosey Hay, and performed by Caporaso, Hannah Wolff, and Sandy D’Oria with ghoulish delight – combines spirited song and dance and decadent dirty limericks in a killer show that underscores its age-old memento-mori theme with a hedonistic message to “Enjoy Yourself” because “it’s later than you think.” I did, and I know you will too.

Rudy Caporaso, Sandy D’Oria, and Hannah Wolff. Photo by Dave Kappler.

The performers appear suddenly from behind the tombs, eerily illuminating themselves with hand-held work lights that they flick on and off, and singing into hand-held microphones that amplify their voices throughout the dead-silent locale (sound engineered by Dave Kappler). They move around the graves, headstones, and funerary sculptures, standing on some, leaning on some, and straddling others, as they deliver their lively vocals and chilling lyrics about death and dying, committing murder and being spooked, and embracing the transitory pleasures of life while you still can. The well-chosen song list ranges from traditional (including Caporaso’s show-stopping solo on “St. James Infirmary”) to contemporary (another highlight, in a show filled with nothing but highlights, is the trio’s uncanny rendition of “Video Killed the Radio Star”). Musical arrangements by Bob Borchert capture the tone of old British Music-Hall entertainment and Vaudeville, as does a pre-recorded score of piano accompaniment that is equally attuned to past times. Drop-dead-gorgeous historicizing costumes by Caporaso conform with the 19th-century setting of the cemetery, the Victorian style of the music, and the sybaritic pan-gender decadence of the last days of the ill-fated Weimar Republic, famously celebrated on stage and screen in Cabaret (and evoked in Caporaso’s compelling performance, gender-bending persona, and enticing interactions with male members of the audience).

REV Theatre Company’s Death Is a Cabaret Ol’ Chum is a show to die for! Fringe-goers are encouraged to bring a picnic blanket or folding chair to enhance their tomb-side comfort, while being enraptured by the spine-tingling theme and breath-taking production.

Rudy Caporaso. Photo by Sam Nagel.

Rudy Caporaso. Photo by Sam Nagel.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.

Death Is a Cabaret Ol’ Chum plays through Saturday, September 16, 2017, at REV Theatre Company, performing at Laurel Hill Cemetery – 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.

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