Can a little funk save your soul? How about the funky savior? If so then boogie on down to the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar at the Capital Fringe Festival to see Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk. A powerhouse 70s style musical that tells the story of Mary, a lost lame facing difficult times, who stumbles onto Jesus and his funky-monkey disco band. Has she found salvation? Or is it really temptation in disguise? Only way to know is to go!
This particular musical is severely hindered by the venue. Aside from the fact that the tent essentially turns into a sweltering sauna with no ventilation of any kind making it impossible to fully concentrate on the performance because of the heat factor, the acoustics are horrendous. Half of the lyrics when being performed with the live disco band are lost and drowned away in the venue’s poor atmosphere, making all of the quirks and bad religious puns difficult to follow.
The musical has potential but it is not quite ready for the full-time stage. Composers Paul Foreman and Vaughn Irving have a real understanding of the era of music that they’re tapping for inspiration, making their songs vibrate with true funky soul. The score written for the band is everything you’d expect if you tumbled into an underground disco nightclub, particularly when it comes to solos for horns, electric guitars, and saxes. The book, however, written by Irving, has enormous holes in the plot structure and is clunky at best. Most of the songs are disrupted by long talking scenes that are poorly placed plot-advancements, exposed without subtly or tact.
Irving’s writing is a bit like a roller coaster, having its high points, its low and slow points, and a few places where there are breaks that shouldn’t be. The bad religious puns are actually quite funny but need to be spaced out as we get a bunch of them all at once and then not at all for a very long time. The overall premise of the show feels unfocused; Irving is trying to cram too many things into the spotlight rather than just focusing on one major thing. And there are loose ends that get resolved without any real explanation of how they were fixed. Irving does, however, have a brilliant framework in place for introducing scenes. Having the soul-rapper Diddy (Oghene-Bruru Ajueyitsi) open the scenes by quoting the gospel of Rick James, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and others of the musical era is a brilliant way to tighten the setting and overall theme of disco into the show.
Despite the shoddy book and not being able to hear half the lyrics of the songs, what you can hear is incredible. And the voices selected to play these roles are sensational. Xana (Kendren Spencer) and Jo (Autumn Seavey Hicks) provide brilliant backup for numbers like “I Won’t Show” and “What Would Disco Jesus Do?” Spencer has an extremely powerful voice, which she teams up with Mary (Felicia Curry) for a song not mentioned in the program right before the end of the production. The two females have a vocal and emotional showdown, being the most stunning and emotionally charged number of the piece.
Curry is the epitome of perfection for the role of Mary, if only the character was more developed. Curry does her best to bring a raw life and emotional expression to the little lost girl, helping her find her way throughout the process. The duality of the lyrical juxtaposition in “Is This It?” featuring Curry and Jesus (Vaughn Irving) is the most well-written song— showing Curry’s character finding her salvation at the same time that Irving’s character’s world is facing total destruction. Curry is a phenomenal voice to have on this project.
While Irving may not be the most talented script writer, he is an impressive performer. With a stage presence that would make the good lord proud, he rocks the sequin boxers and rolls the Jesus look. His voice is intense for “Disco Jesus Theme” and we really get to hear his true singing abilities for his unplugged rendition of “Temptation.” He plays a level headed character and is an overall well-practiced actor.
The talent of the singers is matched only by that of the band (with far too many members to mention them all) But the one that stands out is Mew (Suzanne Edgar) wailing away on her saxophone. With solos featured in various songs throughout the production, Edgar’s instrument is a key component to successful disco. Blending her sound with the powerful chorus for funky upbeat versions of “Jesus Loves Me” and of course “Resurrection Boogie” is what makes the music so awesome.
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk plays through July 27, 2013 at Fort Fringe— Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar— 607 New York Avenue NW in Washington, DC. For performance times and to purchase tickets visit the show’s Capital Fringe Page.
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk’ by Vaughn Irving.