REVIEW: Interact Theatre’s Music-Filled “Joy”

Kevin Kling and company offer a touching ode to the season

Any show featuring Kevin Kling with a Guido mustache and an Eye-talian accent, reeling off jokes like Chico Marx, is worth the money. The real treat of Joy: A Holiday Cabaret, the new holiday show by Interact Theatre, is that Kling is consistently and delightfully upstaged by the Interact performers who dance, sing, and mug their way through this tribute to what makes them, well, joyful. You won’t find a more genuine, touching holiday sentiment this season.

Even in his wildest storytelling, Kling couldn’t have come up with lines like those offered by the company members in a deadpan video relating what gives them joy: a pet bird (except when it squawks and bites and is otherwise completely annoying); Santa Claus (whom an elderly performer is certain he saw many years ago); pizza (the holiday version, which simply bears more onions than usual).

The conceit of the show is that Kling and the wonderfully louche Eriq Nelson (in a bad lounge-lizard toupee, cocktail in hand) are brothers hosting a long-ago local television variety show, with the Interact performers providing the variety. The music, written for the show, ranges from Broadway-style belters to blues numbers to quiet stunners, with plenty of jazz hands to go around.

There is nothing sentimental about the shows staged by Interact, a company of performers with disabilities aided by resident artists. That’s part of the point: while some people may be uncomfortable seeing disabled people talk openly and honestly about their sexuality, dancing sensually, or swearing, Interact allows the performers to be themselves with, one presumes, minimal editing if significant coaching (they began work on the show back in July). Perhaps because of this honesty, the sentiments are all the more powerful.

At a time like this, during an economic malaise, we may be feeling a little bitter, a little sorry for ourselves. And yet these folks, who would seem to have better reasons than anyone to wallow in self-pity, have no shortage of things they’re joyful about. The final number, written by director Tod Petersen, summarizes this best: God gave us warm hands, the song goes, what more could we ask for? Kling, whose hands have been fairly well-damaged over the years, sings this as strongly as anyone—it’s not what we’ve got, of course, it’s what we give. You may be surprised how much you can get from folks we’re used to thinking of as lacking.

Joy: A Holiday Cabaret
Through December 17
Lab Theater, 700 N. First St., Mpls., 612-333-7977