Och & Oy! A Considered Cabaret

Alan Cumming & Ari Shapiro

Written by:
David e. Moreno
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“So take those blues
and bounce them off the wall.
Keep your humor please, ‘cause don’t you know
In times like these that laughing matters most of all…”

–Laughing Matters, Bette Midler

“Och & Oy! A Considered Cabaret” with odd couple turned bosom buddies Alan Cumming, and Ari Shapiro is a refreshing, unexpected delight. More of a live, seemingly impromptu memoir of two illustrious careers than cabaret, full of banter, dissing, celebrity gossip, and enough musical numbers to keep audiences joyously entertained and smiling behind mask-covered faces.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this 2-hour performance is NPR’s All Things Considered, Ari Shapiro’s vocal talent. Any NPR listener would be familiar with his rich, resonant voice, but his vocal range and musicality are even more lush and spot-on than his radio persona would suggest. Leaving only the Bossa Nova, international cocktail crowd to have heard him sing with the heralded, artsy Pink Martini band… “Ari has an amazing voice,” says Tony winner and Time magazine’s “most fun person in show business,” Alan Cumming, which gave him the idea for a cabaret type of show. That and “our chemistry and {being an} unusual combo.”

“Och & Oy” is not formally scripted, even though they sing the same catchy songs and sync on cue for music and dance numbers. But the jabs they make at one another’s expense and the often bawdy stories they share— “You can have my husband!” “I’ve already had your husband!!” — take on a life of their own, sometimes with new twists, tangents, cross-talking, and improvising–all at a rapid clip. Which can be challenging to decipher when this fast-firing repartee is laced with Cumming’s Scottish accent. At times, the show feels more like an intimate work-in-process as musical director Henry Koperski accompanies these two colorful gents on piano as he unassumingly guides the performance.

In between a duet of Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy–coming out stories, name-dropping Shapiro’s soon-to-be-released book, Cumming’s infatuation song about the Latte boy at Starbucks, “I’m married, but I’m not buried” jokes—Shapiro impactfully sings the show’s most poignant number, Bette Midler’s “Laughing Matters.” The song, written in 1998, sounds as if it were written for today’s world, for this election week: “…CNN keeps us all abreast of breaking stories that can tend to make us anxious and depressed. Problems with no answers hang on, like some chronic cough… Bad guys win, optimism wears thin… Hate is here to stay, and justice goes to those who pay…” After which, Shapiro points out that this song was written before 9/11, Covid, the January 6th insurrection, the Iraq war, and numerous mass shootings…

Which is more than the reason that “Och & Oy! A Considered Cabaret” is such a balm, a consolation, a guilty pleasure even as we watch it with our faces still covered, causing eyeglasses to steam as we join in for a singalong of Bonnie Tyler’s anthem, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” And speaking of an eclipse…there happens to be one today–on election day…Oy!!!Och!!!

David e Moreno

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