Overly caffeinated

Triple Espresso

Three wise cast members (left to right): Michael Pearce Donley, Bob Stromberg and Bill Arnold.

Three wise cast members (left to right): Michael Pearce Donley, Bob Stromberg and Bill Arnold.

The Cosmopolitan Cabaret

1000 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 557-1999

Rated 3.0

Cabaret is always an unpredictable (and at times schizophrenic) theater format, and that’s what makes it fun. Triple Espresso is a great example of that. First opening in 1996, the production held long stints in community theaters in Minneapolis (12 years) and San Diego (10 years). It then went international, after being translated into German and Flemish and performed in six different countries. Blending music, dance and audience participation, the production debuted to a Sacramento audience at the Cosmo Cabaret last Friday.

Hugh Butternut (Michael Pearce Donley) is the first character to appear, and he sets the tone for a night full of campy comedy. He sits at a piano, singing cheesy lounge-style lyrics to introduce the audience to the show. He also reveals that he’s been performing here, at Café Espresso, for 25 years—all the while trying to become famous in a trio called Maxwell, Butternut and Bean, with two friends who have unconventional and humorous talents.

For example, Bobby Bean (Bob Stromberg) possesses the ability to sing country standards and can perform children’s shadow puppetry, while Buzz Maxwell (Bill Arnold) can produce crowd-pleasing and comedic sleight-of-hand magic performances.

But there is little substance to hold the plot together, aside from an anecdote about Maxwell having trouble singing in front of an audience. Turns out, he hasn’t been able to sing since his father passed away—and this revelation gives him the most humanlike quality of the characters. He’s the pessimist of the trio and also the most believable.

While there is a somewhat linear plot in the three-man production, it’s the heavy element of audience interaction that produces most of the laughs for the audience. As is common in cabaret, Butternut sings a few audience requests. This evening’s soundtrack included a scat version of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets,” and a version of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” which showed Butternut’s impressive piano and singing ability. Bean leads a few singalongs, including a mash up of the cowboy classics, “Home on the Range” and “My Home’s in Montana.” And Maxwell calls upon several audience members to be his assistant during several magic tricks.

Other than an unpredictable failed strip routine live on the set of The Mike Douglas Show, the script is largely tame, family-friendly and appeals to all audiences. Whether you like magic (Maxwell), physical comedy (Bean) or music (Butternut), there’s something here for everyone.

Perhaps this was the aesthetic the authors had intended, but there’s little focus during Triple Espresso, and at times during the production, the Cosmopolitan Cabaret reminded of some strange open-mic night with puppets, magic and music. But then again, that’s the point of cabaret: a way to pass two hours with easily digestible entertainment, a bit of humor and unpredictability thrown in as a nice escape from your daily doldrums. Triple Espresso, 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; $20-$38 (half-price tickets available for students). Cosmopolitan Cabaret, 1000 K Street; (916) 557-1999; www.calmt.com. Through July 22.