The story behind the inclusion of The Little City Cabaret in the 2009 Piccolo theater series is an unlikely one that begins with a transsexual space alien in a James Island cinema.
That was Little City Musical Theatre's hit The Rocky Horror Show, which broke out of the traditional round of local performance venues and found an audience (and critical acclaim) at the Terrace Theater on Maybank Highway in October, about a month after the Piccolo application deadline.
Robbi Kenney, the company's vivacious artistic director, had considered applying for the '09 Piccolo theater series last summer, but wasn't sure the fledgling company would be ready. Rocky Horror, and a gig as the pianist for the popular Reefer Madness show, changed her mind.
"I'd been monitoring (the Piccolo theater series), and I started making calls around January, just to see," she says. "A spot came open and I was able to get enough performers who were available for the dates that were left."
So Kenney and Little City had a spot at Footlight Theatre in the Piccolo program (6 p.m. every Sunday of the festival). But a stage-ready show? That was still in development.
"What I wanted to do was a light-hearted spoof, something that pokes fun at the performing arts," Kenney says. "Everything is just so serious, and during the festivals you can get overdosed in art. This is just a little comic relief."
More specifically, the Cabaret promises roughly 17 songs and skits over 55 minutes, all themed around the idea of pursuing love by singing. Only one of the musical bits is an original composition, with the rest being either humorous songs by big-name composers, or serious songs done in a silly way, or serious songs sung poignantly as a change-up.
There are 11 cast members (including Kain Cameron, Jimmy Flannery, Chrissy McKown, and Rebecca Knox), a two- or three-piece band (depending on the status of the drum kit), two big dance production numbers, and one huge ensemble finish.
"We're advertising it as a night of song, dance, prizes, and unrequited love," she says.
"There's audience participation. Sometimes we're out in the audience, sometimes we bring audience members up on stage," she adds. "A little competition never hurt anybody in a festival."
All of which makes The Little City Cabaret one of the most intriguing dark-horse entries in the 2009 festival calendar. Like The Good Time Variety Hour (a festival favorite that's bowing out after a one-weekend special event), this themed cabaret is a tightly paced show at a popular venue.
More to the point, it offers an art-themed premise and an endlessly flexible format that could lead to easy renewal in 2010 ... if it finds a festival audience on its maiden voyage.
"I really enjoy musical theater, because I'm a goofball and a risk-taker," she says. "So this is a lot of fun for me. I've been involved in the Piccolo and Spoleto festivals for seven years now ... and behind the scenes we have all our little jokes. So I thought, why not make that into a show?"
Somewhere along the way, that line of thinking turned into a production number starring "The Celtic Almost-Women." As to what that will turn out to be, well, like Kenney said, she's a risk-taker.