Starting this coming weekend, the delightful mother/daughter musical comedy duo Vangari (Evangeline and Ariana Johns) returns to Don’t Tell Mama – the renowned cabaret club, piano bar, and restaurant established in 1982, and conveniently located on Restaurant Row in the heart of NYC’s theater district – with three performances of their latest show Funny You Should Ask. As always, the pair will be accompanied by long-time musical director, pianist, and vocalist Darryl Curry (the veritable third member of Vangari) – all three of whom were nominated for 2021 Broadway World Awards, for Best Musical Comedy Cabaret/Revue and Best Musical Director.
As with their past concerts, the new show will feature choreography by Max McGuire and Mark Mindek, along with personal stories and witty repartee between numbers of the fourteen-song set list. And for the first time, the performance will be directed by actor, educator, and director Christopher Carver, a Georgia native and recent transplant from LA, who is about to make his Off-Broadway debut at Actors Temple Theatre in October, in the lead role of the Stage Manager in Our Town . . . But Wilder – a world-premiere comedic take on the Thornton Wilder classic, set in the 1980s.
In addition to some of Vangari’s most requested fan favorites, Funny You Should Ask will include a few tunes they haven’t previously performed on stage and an original from the songwriting team of Ariana and Darryl, encompassing everything from Broadway to the Blues, tales of voodoo and enchanted earrings to lost love and cautionary tales.
I spoke with Ariana during this busy rehearsal week, to get a preview of what audiences can expect from the show and what she enjoys about working with its close-knit team of collaborators.
Was there a specific theme or focus in your musical selections for Funny You Should Ask?
Ariana: We wanted to present the songs that we felt were the most popular, the ones people have requested most often from our three previous incarnations of the show, and we also wanted to make it funny. So that’s where the title “Funny You Should Ask” came from, combining the two.
How did you come to work with Chris as a director?
Chris has been a close friend for many years and we’ve collaborated on many other shows; basically we’ve found ourselves to be thoroughly copacetic. We realized it when we went to two Bette Midler concerts together; we’re both huge fans and we agreed on so many things. So when we were searching for someone to be our third eye for the new Vangari concert, we brought him in. But he gave us so much feedback and so many great ideas that shaped the entire show and what we’re doing with it, that we invited him to become our director.
What is he bringing to this show that makes it new and different from your past performances and creative process?
He really got what we were doing; not just our style, but what we were looking for in a director – making suggestions to refine what we already had into something even better and more distinct. It’s not necessarily different, but it’s exactly what we needed. Chris has directed 45 shows in LA, he’s won lots of awards, and he’s known for working with drag shows, so he has a great knowledge of cabaret. He didn’t want to reinvent us completely, but to work with who we are, to strengthen our identity.
What makes Darryl the perfect on-stage and behind-the-scenes complement to you and your Mom?
Darryl is literally 1/3 of Vangari, or should I say Vangaryl? He is so involved in creating what we do, and he loves doing it, so we’re constantly involving him in our songs; whether it’s providing a harmony or making a funny comment, he’s such an asset to our show. He’s very much in demand as a pianist and a musical director, but he’s extremely selective about who he chooses to work with, and we’re very happy that he’s chosen us, and just one other cabaret artist. It’s rewarding to know that he loves us as much as we love him!
Do you have one specific song or medley that you’re most looking forward to singing?
The first thing that pops into my mind is “Angel Eyes.” It’s the first time I’m performing it live, and from where it started, as a song I loved, to having Chris direct it, has made a huge difference. Now I have a real sense of it.
What do you feel, and what do you hope the audience will experience, while engaged with your songs and banter at Don’t Tell Mama?
We really just want to create a bond with our audience through music and laughter. We want everyone to have a fun time with us, because these days, that’s exactly what we all need!
Thank you, Ariana, for making the time to give our readers a sneak peek at Vangari’s upcoming show!
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.
Vangari: Funny You Should Ask plays on Saturday, September 17, 4 pm, Saturday, September 18, 7 pm, and Thursday, October 13, 7 pm, 2022, at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, NYC. For tickets (cover charge $18, with a $5 discount for MAC members and DC Theater Arts readers, plus a cash-only $20 minimum per person that must include two drinks), go online.