A slew of clichés are at my fingertips, wanting desperately to open this review. “The silver screen comes alive on stage!” “Hollywood meets Broadway at the Atlas thanks to the Congressional Chorus!” “Let’s go to the movies with the Congressional Chorus – that’s entertainment!”
Fear not, but it can be hard when cliché is what Tinseltown: A Hollywood Cabaret so heavily deals in, as the Congressional Chorus sing classic songs from Hollywood dressed in sparkling costumes, huge smiles, and a theater filled with gold accents (and, of course, plenty of tinsel).
Which is not at all a criticism. The gleeful night of cinematic songs performed by the Congressional Chorus is earnest in its admiration for those classic songs that have become tropes in the American music tradition. Often dismissed with easy irony, the Congressional Chorus tackle them with unabashed enthusiasm, bringing to them an infectious joy that lasts the whole night.
For all of the glitz and glamour, though, it was actually when the music was at its most tender that the heart of the 80 member chorus shone brightest. Soft songs like “Somewhere Out There,” “As Time Goes By,” and “Somewhere over the Rainbow” were highlights of the show, standing out amongst the fun but sometimes-overwrought bombast of the rest of the program.
If the invocations of those classics excites, then Tinseltown is sure to delight. It fulfills its promise of bringing the silver screen to stage admirably, tracing decades of film music and collecting it into one joyous revue. There are classics, oddities, and contemporary songs that all play with and against each other, sometimes in beautiful ways. It was powerful to see classic Disney ditties about humanity like “Feed the Birds” culminate into immediate cries for justice like “Glory,” featured in last year’s Selma. Moments of cross-century musical conversations like those were Tinseltown at its most robust.
TINSELTOWN: A Hollywood Cabaret
March 17 – 20
at Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 22202
But something magical happened as the night went on, and I realized that the entire cabaret beautifully undermined that sentiment of escapism. Because as the chorus sang its way through decades of Hollywood classics, growing more confident with every passing number, their daily lives never hid in the wings. Sure, they might have been emulating Monroe and Astaire and Roberts, but the transformation was never fully complete. They were still parents and employees and DC residents and, simply, people. But tonight they were stars. And the power of their amateurism proved that those identities need not be mutually exclusive.
That was the real take away from Tinseltown, not the nostalgic notion that films let us forget who we are, but rather the suggestion that perhaps the magic and fantasy of movies might fit right in with who we are. There’s room for a little bombast in all of our lives. So come for the glitz. Come for the glamour. But stay for the tender realization that everyone’s a star. They just need a spotlight.
Tinseltown: a Hollywood Cabaret. Directed by David Simmons. Featuring the Congressional Chorus. Choreography: Joshua Chambers. Set Design: Dianna Sell. Lighting Design: Marianne Meadows. Sound Design: Drew Moberley. Stage Manager: Aria Velz. Produced by the Congressional Chorus. Reviewed by Sean Craig.
120 minutes, one intermission.