Hip Shot: Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk

Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 21, 3:00 p.m.
Thursday, July 25, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 7:30 p.m.

They say: "Can disco save your soul? After quitting her bartending job, Mary is lost. Can the “Son of Man” of her dreams save her and help her see the strobe light? Witness this ten-piece band lead you through this funkadellic journey."

Ryan's Take: Disco Jesus had a roomful of very willing disciples one sweaty Wednesday evening. The packed Baldacchino crowd was pumped and primed and ready to get-up-to-get-down for their much-hyped funky savior from the moment the house lights dimmed. It’s a pleasure to report that the show largely lives up to high expectations, even if it’s not quite the religious experience one might hope.

Part of a very welcome recent trend of musicals in which actors play their own instruments, playwright/co-composer/star Vaughn Irving’s Disco Jesus is blessed with a wonderful, spirited cadre of supporting actor/musicians featuring a groovy combination of local vets and fresh faces. Standouts include charming (and scene-stealing) saxophonist Suzanne Edgar, backup singer Autumn Seavey Hicks (Winner: night’s best dance moves), and soul-tastic Oghere-Bruru Ajeuyitsi who provides the narration—and a good portion the sex appeal.

The story concerns the long night of the soul of wayward bartender Mary (a reliably great Felicia Curry) and her chance encounter with the eponymous band. Lest one think the religious influences are laid on too thick, any feints towards a supernatural origin for the Man himself are dispensed with quickly. That’s “Chris” (Irving) up there. He’s just your average mortal rock star and Disco Jesus is simply an inspired pastiche. Chris and Mary meet cute, hidden talents are revealed, and soon enough Mary’s in the band.

This talkier middle section drags a bit. Sometimes it seems as if Irving doesn’t trust that his gimmick (a term used lovingly here!) and the songs it inspires are enough to sustain the audience's attention so feels the need to throw in some Behind the Music-style backstage drama. The choice plays against the ensemble’s strengths. Later sung-through sections are much stronger. The disco jokes are constant and run the gamut from inspired to mildly tired (do we really need a “Rick James, bitch!” retread in 2013?). Only once Curry’s Mary fully emerges as the musical lead does Disco Jesus reach full potential.

When searching for the right hyper-charismatic, funkadellic love god to play his Funky Savior, Irving (along with co-composer Paul Foreman and director Doug Wilder) magically discovered...well, himself. Irving certainly has a lanky, self-effacing charm and decent enough pipes. But do I believe him as the rock star God of Funk, sexually irresistible to all women and men alike? I’m not sure I have the faith.

But how can one be forgiven without having first sinned? So let us allow any suspicion of egotism to slide in favor of praising Irving for conceiving of such a fun pastiche. Let us also praise those powers that wisely knew whom among the cast was our one true Funky Savior: the divine Ms. Curry.

See it if: You’re up for a funky, promising new musical.

Skip it if: You find anything associated with the 1970’s distasteful.