Playwright: Music & Lyrics by Scott Free, book by Rick Karlin. At: New American Folk Theatre at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: 773-426-6442; www.newamericanfolktheatre.org; $15-$20. Runs through: Nov. 7
The martyrs of Salem, Massachusetts, were not the first scapegoats of a society undone by its own fears, but the source of their persecution has entered our language to describe a practice sadly continuing to the present day. For as long as we refer to the harassment of a designated subculture as a "witch hunt," sorcerers and sorceresses will provide the metaphor for parables of gay liberation.
Ironically, the enchanters in Rick Karlin and Scott Free's musical romp really are witchesnot the grotesque necromancers we associate with swamps, but spell-casting sybarites dwelling within the mortal world ( cf. television's happy housewife in Bewitched, which receives a sly shout-out ). Their refuge is the Mambo Voodoo Lounge, where they co-exist peacefully alongside the "bohemian crowd" frequenting New York City's Greenwich Village district. Ooooh, but Mayor Wagner and Police Commissioner Paul Burgess have vowed to drive all "commies, beatniks and queers" from the citya plan endorsed by Burgess' girlfriend ( herself, a closeted witch eager to forgo her supernatural upbringing for the security of temporal clout ).
With most of the action focused on the efforts of lounge proprietress Serena and her cohorts to foil the long arms of the lawspecifically, a pair of handsome young detectives dispatched to shake down the curiously attractive fringe denizenswhere is it more logical to conjure the appropriate "castaway cabaret" ambience than inside Andersonville's Call bar? Although the width of the room makes for muddy acoustics ( especially the scenes at the far stage left bar, where unmiked actors too often sing at each other rather than at the audience ), the exchange of energy in the close quarters lends warmth and intimacy to a score ranging from patter ditties like "Black Hallow's Eve" to dreamy-eyed ballads such as "Too Good to Be True."
The cast that director Anthony Whitaker assembled is led by Caitlin Jackson and Matt Huston as, respectively, Serena and her sidekick Tristan, who nail the torchy "Who Put a Spell on Who?," while Kirk Jackson's and Chris Sefelkski's undercover cops display charming befuddlement on "Normal." In addition, Sarah Blevins, playing the irrepressible bartender Althea, all but steals the show with her rendition of "A Few Tricks Up My Sleeve." Jamal Howard's choreography delivers full-scale dance spectacles in the limited space with no risk to the toes of audience members. At a brisk running time of 90 minutes with an intermission for replenishing drinks, this sparkly-as-fairy-dust confection is tailor-made for Friday-night carouses during the season of the you-know-what.