Set in four different bar scenes, Simon Astor's very retro shoestring extravaganza Cocktails at the Centre of the Earth is equal parts musical travelogue and whimsical farce. First performed in New York three years ago, the show's a bit of a cabaret, with a song performed in each successive lounge. The winningly off-kilter score is performed by a quartet that includes bassoon (Jono Green), accordion, keys, and drums (music director Meg van Huygen), guitar (Tyson Lynn), and tambourine and kartalas (Andrea Lauritsen).
COCKTAILS AT THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH Annex Theatre, 1100 E. Pike St., 728-0933, annextheatre.org. $5-$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Ends Feb. 25.
In effect, writer/director Astor poses a question: What did kids do with their free time and imaginations before Star Wars: The Old Republic and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim? Well, back in the pre–World War II era of dime novels, movie serials, and sci-fi comics, they thrilled to stories of a future that didn't include transistors, microchips, or CGI. Instead, their fantasies ran to a mélange of fantasy and science that might include talking animals, domed civilizations on the ocean's floor, mummies, robots, pneumatic gadgets, and airships so large they could blot out the sky.
Now imagine all that clutter onstage in a musical comedy like something the regulars of The Carol Burnett Show might've put together for their cast parties. Astor's text overflows with bluebloods, boors, and the gold diggers and radicals at the opposite end of the social spectrum who seek to undo them all. Add to that songs seemingly sprung from a '20s speakeasy, and you've got a show that's sure to please . . . um, people who like such alt-historical arcana.
Cocktails moves from one swank nightspot to the next, each more unlikely than its predecessor (on a giant zeppelin, at the bottom of the ocean, near the Earth's core, etc.). The Albion Club introduces a pair of star-crossed lovers (Monica Finney and Trevor Cushman), each trying to seduce any of the fat-cats in the bar—regardless of gender—to secure a meal ticket. Add a gay cabaret singer (Josh Harvigson), a tycoon who's gotten rich by exhuming mummies and juicing them into fuel (John McKenna), and his robot-inventing rival (Jennifer Pratt). Heather Bernadette's costumes and some wildly creative (and uncredited) makeup enhance the fun.
By the show's conclusion, we've met the robot, a fox (Carter Lee Churchfield) who speaks in an odd convolution of poetry and English, and a feisty lesbian aviatrix who zooms around by jetpack. (Played by Erin O'Malley, she's more testosterone-charged than a Vin Diesel triple feature.) It's too much of a good thing, all mirth and mayhem, even if you're a fan of such fanciful characters and adventures. Each bar scene plays like a silly bit of sketch comedy that, like yeast, begins to swell on its own, erupting into bad puns and incessant eye-rolling.
For maximum enjoyment, you may wish to be several cocktails ahead of the cast before curtain time. And, yes, you can take your drinks into the theater. Salute.