April 15, 2012
By Minita Gandhi
Something exciting is happening at Silk Road Rising. There are red velvet curtains, a beautiful piano, and a crescent of cabaret tables for patrons who want to enjoy a real cabaret experience. But if you look up, your eyes will meet the lanterns from the East, giving you the first hint that this cabaret will be something different. It’s Re-Spiced: A Silk Road Cabaret.
Directed by Steve Scott, this primarily Asian and Middle-Eastern cast delivers the eclectic American and British song and narrative selection of Jamil Khoury with punch, pizazz, and moments of seduction.
The ensemble begins with “Arabian Nights,” from Aladdin, adding in ”it’s racist but hey, it’s Disney.” The audience laughs and we are off into a world where the juxtaposition of Western song lyrics and multicultural performers frames familiar songs in humorous, striking, and chilling ways. While the piece as a whole does not have a flawless momentum from top to bottom, it does move. The party Pop Song Medley, which includes “Walk Like an Egyptian, Turning Japanese, and Kung Fu Fighting,” had the audience nearly dancing in their seats. Numbers like “Korean Parents,” and “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” inspired some of the largest laughs of the night.
Narrative selections from Hubert Fiches and others added soft, reflective touches to the evening. It was elegant and refreshing to kick off a song like, “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” with a hint of romance between two beautiful Asian men. Memories of tragedy were evoked with prose piece “The Lesson of Hiroshima” followed by a full-cast rendition of “Bui Doi” that stilled the theater. However, this was only temporary, as the ensemble quickly shifted gears into the War Mashup, which included the Cure song, “Killing an Arab.”
In it’s best moments, this production is sharp, touching, and fun. It’s Ice Cube, Joan Baez, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s cabaret with a conscience. It demands an audience as eclectic as its tightknit ensemble and vivid message.
In some instances of upbeat feeling and rockin’ choreography, it took me a moment to realize I was laughing at the absurdity of our Western exoticism of Eastern culture. This is music I grew up dancing to as a first generation South-Asian while never questioning its meaning. When I first saw Aladdin, I was so excited to have a Disney princess with whom I identified that I let my excitement overcome the underlying exoticism.
It is a testament to the overall success of the production that I left a cabaret show thinking about how we live in a generation that doesn’t feel the same pressures to assimilate as generations before, that there have always been those brave souls fighting through that pressure, and that the view of minorities in this country is shifting. Even still, as parts of Re-Spiced illustrate: there are battles left to fight.