Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk is not a play. It’s not a musical, a revue, or even a concert. Disco Jesus is an experience—an unparalleled, rocking experience.
The first thing you experience is the heat. The heavy, sweaty air in the Baldacchino Tent is oppressive and you feel as if you are entering the depths of hell rather than the fresh air of heaven. The interminable heat coupled with the quiet excitement of the crowd completes the tent revival feel as the audience stares at the empty pit with building anticipation.
And then the creation story begins: “And the Lord said, ‘Let there be bass.’” Our master of ceremonies, Diddy (played with ultimate smoothness by Oghene-Bruru Ajueyitsi), brings in each individual aspect of the band—bass, guitar, drums, trumpet, saxophone, keyboard, and vocals. By the time everyone onstage is going full swing, the audience has (mostly) forgotten the heat and is jamming right along with the cast.
What follows is the simple tale of a lost soul desperately looking to be found. Mary (Felicia Curry) is working a dead-end job, dating a low-life loser, and watching her dreams go up in smoke. She is adrift. No doubt about it. So when she up and quits her job, finds herself in a dive bar across town, and happens to meet Chris (Vaughn Irving), the charismatic front man for Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk, she thinks she has found her savior.
The show alternates between roof-raising numbers involving the entire 11 person cast, and short, plot-driven scenes. The text is typical—predictable even; leading lady Mary falls deeply in love with her would-be savior as he innocently but sensually teaches her how to play a G chord on his guitar.
And yet, however basic the plot may be, it never for an instant takes away from the true and heartfelt power of the piece. The audience remains enthralled with the depth of emotion and genuine honesty that Curry and Irving bring to their characters. Irving’s especially magnetic presence makes Mary’s palpable connection to Chris entirely believable.
Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk
by Paul Foreman and Vaughn Irving
at Fort Fringe – The Balducchino Gypsy Tent Bar
607 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
The cast of characters is rounded out by multiple band members whose riotously funny cameo roles threaten to steal the show. Saxophonist Suzanne Edgar stands out as an incredible musician and comedienne—proving the sentiment that there truly are no small roles. Guitar player Matthew Schleigh also impresses as he nimbly oscillates between sleazy club DJ and sinister music producer.
Audiences will find the show packed with wittily adapted bible verses, innocently heretical Jesus jokes, and funkadelic twists on classic Sunday School songs. Indeed, the exhilerant music of composers Paul Foreman (on Bass) and Vaughn Irving (who plays Jesus) challenges the assertion that funk is an outdated genre with no place in modern music. The powerful effect of six instruments combined with five phenomenal voices is electrifying.
To be sure, this show was up against the typical Fringe adversaries – an uncomfortable venue, inconsistent mics, and rough production values. But the message of Disco Jesus surmounted these challenges, and the audience was left with more than a toe-tapping beat. What originally seems like a farcical approximation of the second coming of Jesus becomes a show that champions self-reliance and being true to oneself.
So put on your 1970s Sunday best, meet me at the Fringe Revival Tent, and get ready for a honest to goodness “Come to Jesus” moment. Because Lord knows, I’ll be back to see this one again.