Franz and Zelda's Happy Time Cabaret Hour | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Franz and Zelda's Happy Time Cabaret Hour 

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FRANZ AND ZELDA'S HAPPY TIME CABARET HOUR, Tingle Tangel Theatre, at Breadline Theatre. In this late-night show John Osterhagen and Juliet Schaefer--the Franz and Zelda of the title--mix two of my favorite genres: Weimar-style cabaret and the reorchestration of trashy pop numbers into classic-sounding torch songs.

Osterhagen, who did all the arrangements, accompanies the smoky-voiced Schaefer on the keyboard. Sounding like a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Lotte Lenya with a head cold, she sings Soft Cell's 1981 hit "Tainted Love" as if it were "Lili Marlene" and the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" as if it were "September Song." Her intensely serious version of Devo's "Whip It" is killing, and Osterhagen's thoughtful orchestration of Gloria Gaynor's 1979 disco hit "I Will Survive" reveals a surprising depth and pathos.

Not everything works perfectly in this rough, underrehearsed show. Osterhagen and Schaefer need to add a few up-tempo songs: the transformation of light, high-energy hits into slow, Germanic ballads soon grows predictable. And Schafer--who wrote the patter between songs--fails to mine the dark topical humor inherent in the show's premise, that Franz and Zelda are refugees from a fictional central European nation currently torn apart by war. --Jack Helbig


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