theatreWashington’s Summer Hummer 2014 – making things hot for a cool cause

People do crazy things for charity. If you haven’t been living under a social media blackout, you’ve probably seen people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads for a charity fighting ALS. theatreWashington’s Summer Hummer does essentially the opposite thing for their charity Taking Care of Our Own: instead of cooling their donors down with ice, they heat them up with sexy performances of Broadway songs, adapted so that the lyrics match the sexiness of the performance (more on these adaptations later). This year, theatreWashington’s annual event delivered on its promise of raunchy humor and belting standards, but it had a few issues that prevented it from being the full-fledged high-flying experience that it could have been.

Colleen Hayes, Eunice Bae, and Maria Rizzo in the Summer Hummer: Ménage à Trois

Colleen Hayes, Eunice Bae, and Maria Rizzo in the Summer Hummer: Ménage à Trois

Here’s the basic structure of the evening for those that want maximum enjoyment out of their Summer Hummer experience. First, you put on your sexiest outfit. I had to go with a Hawaiian shirt, lasciviously unbuttoned, because the only way I know how to be sexy is to show a bunch of skin. Others went with short shorts, elaborately patterned club shirts, or a corset undergirding an outfit.Not everybody followed this rule, but the people who had the most fun did.

Next, you go to the ATM to get out a bunch of cash and then go to a local brick-and-mortar store to break the twenties you just withdrew into ones. Yes, all ones, just like the strip club, not that I’d know from first-hand experience, of course. After that, you head to Signature Theater to the pre-party, where you can take pictures with some of the cast (variously in banana hammocks, corsets, and drag), invent your own stripper name (I saw Hugh G. Dix, Dommie Natrix, and Clitty Slicker), and, most importantly, get rascally drunk before the show. Then sit back and relax and let the tunes, dancing, and filthy jokes.

The rhythm of the evening waved from video interludes to comical introductions to group dance numbers to individual numbers, all with nicely-arranged music by Darius Smith. Each of these bits had great examples of success, but also showed what could be improved with the performance. The directors of the production, Matt Gardiner and Eric Schaeffer had their hands more than full with more than 20 cast members and just as many transitions, all the while throwing music and dance in the balance. I’m pretty sure I saw Gardiner busting some fine moves with the Beyoncé dancers midway through the performance. The Summer Hummer is a colossal undertaking, and Signature Theater and its directors deserve great praise for pulling it off so effectively.

The opening number for the Summer Hummer, an original by Christopher Youstra called “Good Things Cum in Threes,” showcased the audience-pumping group dance numbers found throughout the evening. Sometimes these numbers were titillating strip teases (without nudity, just pasties, panties, posing pouches) that were billed as “the more you give, the more they take off” which, given the tens and twenties I saw stuffed in bras and jockstraps, was an effective pitch. The audience loved these bits. Rightly so, but some of their complexity seemed a bit much for such a sprawling evening and Karma Camp’s rocking choreography could have been executed with more precision.

Bobby Smith (standing) and Eric Schaeffer on trombone at Summer Hummer 2014

Bobby Smith (standing) and Eric Schaeffer on trombone at Summer Hummer 2014

Precision was the forte of the video interludes though, which provided the most raucous laughter of the night. These well-edited scenes brought down the house. Sherri Edelen dressed as a cat was riotous, but the best moment of the night was a collaborative affair. theatreWashington brought together some fantastic mature actors to do a dramatic rendition of Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle.” Several people in the audience were literally crying with laughter, especially when Craig Wallace admonished the crowd to “kiss his rain drops” and Naomi Jacobson demanded that the unnamed woman in the song “make it clap.” I won’t explicate these references here, but feel free to use the Internet to find them out (not at work, unless you have a really cool boss).

Almost as smashing were the individual songs, especially ones that took advantage of the excitement of the crowd to create extemporaneous humor. Carolyn Cole and Maria Egler did an awesome job of this, repeatedly false-starting their cover of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” adapted to tell the story of one woman’s reluctance to try anal sex and her eventual succumbing to the act. Later on, Tracy Lynn Olivera’s gospel torch song still has me humming “My Vagina is Eight Miles Wide.”

And that pretty much sums up the tenor of the evening: song and dance and juvenile humor about sex and butts. No one expects the Summer Hummer to be highbrow (except, apparently, for some other theater critics in the audience who, speaking of butts, looked like they had been on a weeklong diet of stool-stiffener before coming). But lowbrow humor can be a great relaxation from the tension of expectation. I do wish that the show had focused a little less on sex jokes and a little more on the actual charity work of Taking Care of Our Own. It was great to see Frank Britton onstage, recovered from an assault earlier this year, and I hoped that theatreWashington would have encouraged beneficiaries of their great charity to testify to their work. But $18,000 was raised through the event that will help many needy members of the DC theater community, which makes the night very successful. Next year, you should get your tickets for the event to be a part of the low humor and the high cause.

This year’s Summer Hummer ran about an hour and forty five minutes and the cast included Eunice Bae, Frank Britton, Evan Casey, Austin Colby, Carolyn Cole, Natascia Diaz, Erin Driscoll, Jamie Eacker, Catie Flye, James Gardiner, Will Gartshore, Helen Hedman, Donna Migliaccio, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Maria Rizzo, Nicholas Rodriguez, Bobby Smith, Stephen Gregory Smith, Nick Vaughn, Lauren Williams, and Sherri L. Edelen in a special video appearance.

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We encourage you to acknowledge and honor the theatre professionals who work to bring you the more the 300 productions to be presented in this upcoming season by contributing to their fund, Taking Care of Our Own.

Alan Katz About Alan Katz

Alan Katz is dramaturg, critic, epicure, and occasional director in the DC area. Alan has worked for a number of theaters and playwrights around the DC area including WSC Avant Bard, The Inkwell, the Folger Theater, and now with We Happy Few. He specializes in new play and adaptation dramaturgy, but he also reads Ancient Greek and works with Shakespeare every day as a librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Alan helped create the BFA in Dramaturgy option at Carnegie Mellon and holds his MA in Theater History from Catholic University. He also excels at being a translator, poet, dog whisperer, house manager, Magic: the Gathering player, and he does the best roast chicken you've ever had in your life. Reach him at http://www.alanjaykatz.com or @dcdramaturg on Twitter.Want to see behind the scenes of DC theater? Want sneak peeks and instant reactions from the latest shows before all the reviews publish? Add dcdramaturg on Snapchat https://www.snapchat.com/add/dcdramaturg

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