By JOHN DeMERS
The only bad thing I can think of to say about last night’s first cabaret-style performance of Luther Chakurian and Rebekah Dahl in LOVE (with themselves) is that tonight’s second and final performance is a sellout. And before any children of the ‘60s get upset, I mean “sellout” in the best possible way.
Sure, there were quibbles, especially early on. The show is being given in a (barely) glorified meeting room at the Houston Club downtown, where some audience members arrive just in time to watch other audience members have their mostly empty dinner plates carted away. After the fully produced musicals these actors star in for Masquerade Theatre at the Hobby Center, the room is utterly lacking in magic. At first, in fact, the desire for some form of stage lighting was severe – something to focus attention away from the blah venue and the still-laboring service staff. By the end, however, I’d made my peace with the surroundings – and even gave the performers extra points. They were acting and singing in our own living room, and they truly had nothing up their sleeves.
Fact is, Masquerade and founding artistic director Phillip Duggins have high hopes for these smaller, more intimate cabaret evenings. While the company went with its two biggest guns for this initial salvo – Chakurian and Dahl could hold their own in any theater company on earth – Duggins told the audience he’d like to put on several more such evenings next year. Surely, Masquerade has ample depth of theatrical talent. It remains to be seen whether its other stars can pile on the charisma mixed with self-deprecating humor mixed with genuine pathos that Chakurian and Dahl brought to opening night.
One of the more impressive aspects of this show (unofficially dubbed “Two Diva Bitches You Can’t Live Without”) was the performers’ ease talking about themselves. Theater, in general, is a way to hide from yourself, to disappear into and behind a fictional character. Yet whether it was Chakurian’s nearly debilitating childhood shyness or Dahl’s ludicrous wild-child inappropriateness for one Christian theater company (“They prayed over me several times,” she recalled), they spoke with comfortable affection of their pasts, their victories and stumbles along the way, and most of all, each other. The two have starred side-by-side in some of the best shows Masquerade has done – Chakurian for 13 years, Dahl for 10. In this cabaret act, with Michael Ammons at the piano, they reprise some of their finest moments from Sweeney Todd, Jekyll & Hyde, Sunday in the Park with George, Songs for a New World, Chess and Guys and Dolls.
Dahl got to revisit the two roles that made her a Houston stage celebrity, belting out showstoppers from Annie Get Your Gun and Gypsy. And just when you thought that was as intense as the evening could get, Chakurian shared his memories of his mother’s death to cancer before knocking her favorite song right out of the Houston Club, “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. Dahl united with her friend in the next moment, dedicating her own passionate rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita to the mother of her stage Che. Applause became standing ovation for these two remarkable talents, and many eyes were less than dry. Especially their own.