FRANZ AND ZELDA’S HAPPY TIME CABARET HOUR, Tingle Tangel Theatre, at Breadline Theatre. In this late-night show John Osterhagen and Juliet Schaefer–the Franz and Zelda of the title–mix two of my favorite genres: Weimar-style cabaret and the reorchestration of trashy pop numbers into classic-sounding torch songs.
Osterhagen, who did all the arrangements, accompanies the smoky-voiced Schaefer on the keyboard. Sounding like a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Lotte Lenya with a head cold, she sings Soft Cell’s 1981 hit “Tainted Love” as if it were “Lili Marlene” and the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” as if it were “September Song.” Her intensely serious version of Devo’s “Whip It” is killing, and Osterhagen’s thoughtful orchestration of Gloria Gaynor’s 1979 disco hit “I Will Survive” reveals a surprising depth and pathos.
Not everything works perfectly in this rough, underrehearsed show. Osterhagen and Schaefer need to add a few up-tempo songs: the transformation of light, high-energy hits into slow, Germanic ballads soon grows predictable. And Schafer–who wrote the patter between songs–fails to mine the dark topical humor inherent in the show’s premise, that Franz and Zelda are refugees from a fictional central European nation currently torn apart by war. –Jack Helbig