They’re back! After a five-year hiatus, the Kinsey Sicks—possibly the raunchiest quartet in harmonic history—are back on stage at Theater J with Oy Vey in a Manger, a satirical revue performed by a group of gifted singers who are as talented as they are funny.
Like Santa—whose image is plastered all over the set—this visiting troupe will be in and out in a trice, with just five in-person shows remaining before they decamp for the next stop on their tour. (Luckily for the COVID-leery among us, the show will be streaming through New Year’s Eve.)
Founded 27 years ago by a group of lawyers and politicos who just happened to have a lot of musical training behind them, the group has toured most of the civilized world with their mix of political satire and shtick.
The show opens with a promise to be “hip and funny,” and it lives up to its claim. Jokes fly. There are good ones and bad, some lewd and some crude, mixed with satire and farce.
Some jokes elicited groans from the audience, yet the people around me clearly enjoyed the interaction. (The performance I attended—a weekend matinee—had a full house.)
All in all, Oy Vey is a wonderful mishmash of all kinds of comedy, interlaced with satire and an abundance of smut that was reminiscent of burlesque. Shakespeare would have loved it.
The premise, such as it is, is that the girls—having bought a certain manger (yes, that one) a few millennia ago—are now in danger of being evicted. They’re trying to sell off the place before it’s foreclosed.
But first, they’re happy to sing us some of their holiday classics, including “Lusty the Snowman,” “Soylent Night,” and “I’m Dreaming of a War on Christmas.”
(Jews, they remind us, in a reference to songwriters like Irving Berlin, “don’t sing Christmas carols. They just write them.”)
But—this being an equal-opportunity satire—there are plenty of attacks on Jewish stereotypes, using Hanukah melodies for songs like “I Had a Little Facial” to the tune of “I had a little dreidel.”
The cast is great. All four of the actors possess fine voices and a sense of timing that is spot-on.
Calling themselves Dragapella (drag queens singing acapella), they are quintessential stand-up comics, masters (or mistresses) of shtick who are capable of belting out beautiful sound on their own, yet rapturous when singing together. They are also fine actors.
Nathan Marken is Winnie, a tall—make that very tall—redhead in glasses. Winnie is the ultimate Jewish mother, constantly reminding the girls to clean up the mess before the visitors arrive. (On the show’s website, Winnie offers her favorite recipe for matzo brie.)
Winnie also reminds me of a somewhat perverted Jo in Little Women, her glasses serving as a reminder that she is the house intellectual as well as the character who controls the plot.
Spencer Brown plays Trampolina, a showgirl type in a purple outfit that reveals sensational legs. Jeff Manabat is Trixie, glamorous in a glittery green gown that matches his eye shadow, and J.B. McLendon is Angel, a somewhat burly figure sporting a big red bow.
The book and lyrics are the work of Benjamin Schatz, who was Winnie’s predecessor in the original production nearly 30 years ago. In private life, Schatz is a Harvard-trained civil rights lawyer and presidential advisor.
The music, both new and old, is the work of Jeff Manabat (the ultra-sultry Trixie), who directed and arranged all the musical numbers and created the exuberant costumes.
The set, designed and decorated by Thomas Howley, is almost a character in itself. An almost baroque backdrop with a tall Christmas tree looms, somewhat ludicrously, behind a faded couch, two overstuffed chairs, and a table.
Surrounding the seating arrangement, and covering every surface in sight, is a manic collection of Christmas boxes, lawn and tree ornaments of every description, neon reindeer (some of which move), and numerous Santa Claus mugs. It’s a celebration of kitsch, in all its ludicrous (and almost obscene) glory.
Act One involves the need to clean up the manger for potential buyers. This is finally accomplished at the end of the act, when all the detritus is shoved into two large garbage bags.
Act Two begins with a (relatively) cleaned-up set, though the kitsch and the boxes remain. But no one comes to the open house, so the Kinsey Sicks peel off their wigs, break down the invisible fourth wall, and talk directly to the audience.
From this point on, Oy Vey is a straight—but gay—review. In “Finding Jesus,” Trixie offers a parody of a found-again Christian, raising an operatic voice that could easily shatter glass.
Some of the show’s sharpest political thrusts are aimed at the gun lobby. “The Second Amendment is only for whites,” Trampolina says, after singing the stunning “Get a Gun.”
One of Winnie’s best songs, “Nice Jewish Girls,” brings down the house. It’s a tribute to all the “yiddishe maidels” who refused to be nice, the list extending “from Lillian Hellman…to Gloria Steinem” and “from Ethel Rosenberg to Rosa Luxemburg.”
Another hit in the Semitic mode is “Don’t Be Happy… Worry,” in which Angel laments—or perhaps extols—Jewish guilt.
However, at one point, she demonstrates that you don’t need to be Jewish—or gay—to like satire aimed at anti-Semites and homophobes. Asking for a show of hands, she quickly reveals that there are more non-Jews—and more hetero couples—in the audience than Jews or gays. Surprise!
Although the characters are all described as Jewish and gay, in real life only Marken fits the bill. Jeff Manabat, the singer who plays Trixie, is a Filipino American actor who can be seen (and heard) in dozens of action films on Netflix. Brown is a veteran of the Kansas City musical stage, while Marken is active in San Franciso’s theater and light opera scene. McLendon, who plays Angel, has spent most of his career in musical theater and is a playwright too.
Oy Vey in a Manger is a wonderful reminder of a kind of comedy that has been nearly whitewashed out of existence. It’s reminiscent of burlesque, reminding me of Nathan Lane’s moving tribute to that long-gone art in The Nance. Watching the Kinsey Sicks, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when it was illegal for female impersonators to be gay.
Running Time: Approximately one hour 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
The Kinsey Sicks’ Oy Vey in a Manger plays through December 25, 2021, at Theater J, in the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater, located inside the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center at 1529 16th St. NW, Washington, DC. Oy Vey in a Manger will also be available on-demand to stream from home from December 24 to 31, 2021. For in-person tickets, call the box office at (202) 777-3210, or purchase them online. (The box office is available from 1 pm to 5 pm Monday through Friday and one hour before a performance.) Single ticket prices range from $35–$75. Streaming tickets ($55) are available here.
Not recommended for anyone under 18 or members of the NRA.
The digital program is available here.
COVID Safety: In accordance with the Edlavitch DCJCC policy, all individuals will be required to show proof of full vaccination each time they enter the EDCJCC by presenting either digital documentation on a smartphone or a physical copy of their vaccination card. Individuals with medical or religious exemptions to vaccinations will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of their arrival to the EDCJCC. Mask wearing will be required inside of the building by all people at all times (except when eating/drinking in designated areas). Please do not attend if you have any symptoms of COVID or have been exposed to anyone with the virus. For more information, visit theaterj.org/
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