#SLACabaret Skewers Utah’s Quirks • Salt Lake Magazine

Back in the summer of 2019 – if you can still remember that long – the Salt Lake Acting Company performed its 41st iteration of Voyeur on Saturday. The longstanding satire mocked national politics, Utah culture, and Mormonism; the title refers to Saturday’s Warrior, a hackneyed musical tale about the Church’s plan of salvation. Saturday’s voyeur was an iconic fixture at SLAC and a summer tradition that was likely believed to last forever.

A lot has changed in two years. The pandemic paralyzed most live theater last March, and later in 2020 SLAC executive artistic director Cynthia Fleming announced that Saturday’s voyeur would not be returning. The theater obviously wanted to move on to something new – and cheaper. (Also, the 1973 source material has become less known to an up-and-coming generation of ExMos and Latter-day believers alike.) Now, nearly two years after the last Saturday performance of Voyeur, SLAC is starting over with the world premiere of #SLACabaret. another musical that parodies the good, bad, and ugly of life in the beehive state. The production marks another milestone – SLAC’s first personal appearance since last March.

Jae Weit and Mack in #SLACabaret; Photo: David Daniels, Courtesy Salt Lake Acting Company

The loosely planned musical and variety show takes place at Salt Lake City International Airport, this controversial, expensive giant that everyone has an opinion about. Nia (Mack) has just landed and is ready to start her new life in SLC. Trapped at the airport by an escalating series of disasters, she travels with Parker-Avery (Jae Weit), a non-binary dreamer trying to make her life better in conservative Utah, Hudson (Michael Hernandez), an overburdened airport, traveling through the endless halls of Manager and Kavin (Aathaven Tharmarajah), an elder returning home from an unusual mission.

#SLACabaret’s music replaces the lyrics of Broadway and pop songs, both classic and contemporary, with Utah-specific references. At the beginning of the show, the company sings a parody of “Welcome to the Rock” from Come From Away, replacing the repeated chant of the original song “I am an Islander” with “I am a Utahn”. The song evokes many Utah stereotypes and sets a tone that mixes the pride and embarrassment most of us feel about our strange, lovable state.

In the tradition of Saturday’s voyeur, #SLACabaret contains lots of cutting edge jokes about the latest news from Utah. Luckily for playwrights Martine Kei Green-Rogers, Aaron Swenson, and Amy Wolk, the incredible, traumatic, and bizarre events of the past two years have given #SLACabaret plenty of material to work with. There is so much material that a number to the tune of Company’s “Getting Married Today” lists all of the forgotten headlines and minor scandals the show won’t parody. Above all, the coronavirus does not play a major role in the plot of the musical. Are the show’s creators missing a comedic opportunity to defeat the frightening world of anti-maskers and vaccine skeptics? Perhaps. But Green-Rogers, Swenson, and Wolk are probably right to suspect that we’d rather escape than relive the horrors of 2020, which has a lot to make fun of. In one of my favorite running gags, news anchors talked about an invisible essential oil convention that somehow causes disaster after disaster.

Olivia Custodio in #SLACabaretOlivia Custodio in #SLACabaret; Photo by David Daniels, Courtesy of the Salt Lake Acting Company

The four main cast are charming actors and strong singers, but four other members of the cast – Olivia Custodio, Mina Sadoon, Niki Rahimi, and Matthew Tripp – steal the show and play a series of goofy cartoons that are unique to Utah. (Pedro Flores and Wendy Joseph complete the ensemble.) Sadoon and Tripp have a blast as gender-obsessed Instagram influencers and disgraced Olympians who somehow never left the airport. Custodio plays two outstanding characters – an 1847 Pioneer Museum enthusiast and a white liberal nightmare (pronounced Caren) who lends her copy of White Fragility like a weapon of war. #SLACabaret ends with a tribute to The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, with lots of Easter eggs for fans of the series.

The musical’s creative team, led by Fleming, is doing a great job but really, it’s all about the jokes and #SLACabaret has a lot of them. Some are clever, some cheesy and many are both at the same time, but when I saw the show the audience ate it all up. It feels cathartic to impale the day-to-day craziness that makes Utah special for better or for worse, and it feels especially good to finally laugh together in a crowd all those months later.

#SLACabaret will be on view on Salt Lake Acting Company through September 12th. It will be streamed online from August 28th through September. 12. Vaccination certificate and mask requirement. More information and ticket sales can be found on the SLAC website.

Read our preview of the 2021-22 Utah theater season and our story of the Amberlee Fund, SLAC’s accessibility campaign.

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