Way back in summer 2019—if you can even remember that long ago—Salt Lake Acting Company performed their 41st iteration of Saturday’s Voyeur. The long-running satire lampooned national politics, Utah culture and Mormonism; the title references Saturday’s Warrior, a corny musical telling of the Church’s Plan of Salvation. Saturday’s Voyeur was an iconic fixture at SLAC and a summer tradition audiences probably assumed would last forever.
A lot has changed in two years. The pandemic shut down most live theater last March, and later in 2020, SLAC’s executive artistic director Cynthia Fleming announced that Saturday’s Voyeur wouldn’t come back. The theater evidently wanted to move on to something newer—and cheaper. (Also, the 1973 source material was becoming less familiar to a rising generation of ExMos and Latter-day faithful alike.) Now, almost two years after the final performance of Saturday’s Voyeur, SLAC is starting fresh with the world premiere of #SLACabaret, another musical parodying the good, bad and ugly of life in the Beehive State. The production marks another milestone—SLAC’s first in-person performance since last March.
The loosely plotted musical and variety show is set at the Salt Lake City International Airport, that controversial, expensive behemoth everyone has an opinion about. Nia (Mack) has just landed and is ready to start her new life in SLC. As an escalating series of disasters traps her in the airport, she journeys through the endless halls with Parker-Avery (Jae Weit), a nonbinary dreamer trying to escape their life in conservative Utah, Hudson (Michael Hernandez), a high-strung airport manager and Kavin (Aathaven Tharmarajah), an Elder returning home from an unusual mission.
The music of #SLACabaret replaces the lyrics of Broadway and pop songs, both classic and contemporary, with Utah-specific references. At the beginning of the show, the company sings a parody of “Welcome to the Rock” from Come From Away with the original song’s repeated chant of “I am an islander” replaced with “I am a Utahn.” The song calls out many Utah stereotypes and sets a tone that mixes the pride and embarrassment that most of us feel about our weird, lovable state.
In the tradition of Saturday’s Voyeur, #SLACabaret includes plenty of topical jokes about recent Utah news stories. Luckily for playwrights Martine Kei Green-Rogers, Aaron Swenson and Amy Wolk, the unbelievable, traumatic, strange events of the last two years have given #SLACabaret plenty of material to work with. There’s so much material that one number, set to the tune of “Getting Married Today” from Company, lists all of the forgotten headlines and minor scandals that the show won’t parody. Most notably, coronavirus does not play a major role in the musical’s plot. Do the show’s creators miss a comedic opportunity to take down the frightening world of anti-maskers and vaccine skeptics? Maybe. But Green-Rogers, Swenson and Wolk guess, probably correctly, that we’d prefer to escape rather than relive the horrors of 2020. The show’s commitment to good-natured satire—which also means few jokes about Trump or politics in general—still leaves plenty to make fun of. In one of my favorite running gags, newscasters reported on an unseen essential oils convention that somehow causes disaster after disaster.
The four leads are charming performers and strong singers, but four other members of the cast—Olivia Custodio, Mina Sadoon, Niki Rahimi and Matthew Tripp—steal the show playing a range of goofy, only-in-Utah caricatures. (Pedro Flores and Wendy Joseph complete the ensemble.) Sadoon and Tripp have a lot of fun as gender-obsessed Instagram influencers and disgraced Olympians who somehow never left the airport. Custodio plays two standout characters—a Pioneer Museum enthusiast straight out of 1847 and a white liberal nightmare (pointedly named Caren) who yields her copy of White Fragility like a weapon of war. #SLACabaret ends with a tribute to The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, with plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the series.
The musical’s creative team, led by Fleming’s direction, do great work, but really, it’s all about the jokes, and #SLACabaret has a lot of them. Some are clever, some are cheesy and many are both at the same time, but when I saw the show, the audience ate it all up. It feels cathartic to skewer the everyday weirdness that makes Utah, for better and worse, special, and it feels especially good to finally, all these months later, laugh together in a crowd again.
#SLACabaret will be at Salt Lake Acting Company through Sept. 12. It will stream online from Aug. 28-Sept. 12. Proof of vaccination and masks are required. For more information and ticket sales, visit SLAC’s website.