Mark Siano and Opal Peachey have created something weird and sexy (“swexy” riffs Siano) out of their alternate-universe two-online-worlds-colliding cabaret-musical Modern Luv. It was fresh from a well-received run at the Triple Door when I saw its “unplugged” incarnation Tuesday night at the Rendezvous Jewelbox.
I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at a musical since Gutenberg! The Musical–which also featured a small but hard-working cast, dreams of making it big, and largely imagination-based production values. Modern Luv‘s cabaret roots are evident in the easy informality of its meta-narration, and the way Siano beams out at you as if you’re all guests at his party. He’s got a lounge singer’s sweaty sheen and broad smile, and displays enough jack-of-all-stages hoofer aptitude that I started picturing his soft-rock Emcee in Cabaret.
Essentially, Modern Luv is, as the title indicates, a love story, but, as the “luv” suggests, not a sappy one. Actually, there are several loves: the Seattle Siano-New York Peachey encounter, sure, but also that of disaffected hipsters for musicals, of home (Amish country, Seattle), of our increasingly virtual reality. It is only okay, after all, to for a hipster to love his or her smart phone. To love-love someone verbally is…outré. You must luv them instead.
These kinds of semiotic distinctions are where most of the humor in Modern Luv arises. From the opening “Texting song,” followed by the instant-classic “Up in Your Inbox,” the show wastes no time letting you know that you are an urbane, plugged-in, roué who has been around the e-block. Every song is loaded with signifiers, and Siano and Peachey are, as fish born in this sea, able to perform them for you winningly, with the assistance of back-up dancers.
Siano’s Minority-Report-style Googling of Peachey is especially on the nose, in its translation to the stage. It relies on the audience’s willingness to go with it, but that’s where the participatory charm of show grows on you, watching Peachey impersonate her Facebook photo gallery.
There’s an improvisatory flair to some of the interstitial scenes–thanks in part to the participation of David Swidler, who I won’t review because I find him hilarious in real life, even that time, he assures me, he was in real pain after the accident. But there’s also improvisatory hurry-up set-ups (Larry David is often guilty of this–“So…uh…what’s…you’re upset with me because I did [some inappropriate Larry David thing]?” he’ll instruct his scene partner).
With a range of pop-styled music by Siano and performed by The Enablers, the show boasts both a Soft Rock Medley and Broadway Musical Medley (“It was like what was in my heart just came right up and out my throat!” says the impish Peachey) that rejoice in the power of music to overcome suppressed emotion. When the audience joined in on a soft-rock lyric at Siano’s urging, it was with the presence and timing of a choir bursting to sing.
“She Can’t Call,” a song about the interruption of their romance also features what I think is the first musical portrayal of “Damn You Auto-Correct”–here, a hooded gremlin who runs in and physically replaces words with mad lib items. “I’m Not The Man I am Online” lets Siano drop the act a bit, and express (finally) some unmediated emotion (no disrespect to his soft-rock stylings, which demonstrate an esoteric technical proficiency in yelps, sotto voce baritone, and falsetto).
“We can leave if it’s lame,” whispered someone in the dark before the show started. They didn’t. They laughed a lot, instead, and maybe…just maybe…learned a little something about love, too.