"You're so odd but we love you still," goes a refrain in the opening number of Flying Anvil's new musical production. The endearment is directed, of course, at the city of Knoxville, and expresses our sentiments exactly.
What's going on at Big Fatty's Catering Kitchen, at 5005 Kingston Pike, is, by our unofficial count, the fifth annual "Forbidden Knoxville" extravaganza, which was born on North Gay Street at Theatre Knoxville Downtown. If the concept lost some gritty street cred with the move, they gained a few more seats, plus a full bar, and Big Fatty's broad, Southern-tinged menu of entrées and desserts.
The 2013 production is called "Forbidden Knoxville Goes Psycho"—also subtitled, "the Stacey Campfield Edition." Our state senator may not care to attend; then again, one skit concludes that maybe what the awkward fellow needs is a hug.
Several constants survived the five-mile trip to Bearden. Well-traveled thespian Jayne Morgan has always been the writer and director for the show, and is again. Her Flying Anvil Theatre partner Staci Swedeen is producer. Three Forbidden Knoxville regulars—Krisha Newport, Dana Wham, and Bill Howard—are back, joined by Jim Richardson, a familiar Theatre Knoxvillian.
Christopher Hamblin, the artistically impetuous diva behind "Night of 1,000 Dollys," is music director, a job he's done before. As keyboardist who sometimes interacts with the actors, he's a visible part of the show.
This version's almost a Best-Of revue. Resurrected are some old "Forbidden Knoxville" irreverent favorites, including "Ash, Ash, Baby," a demanding and well-performed rap song about the TVA near-disaster, and "UT and the Beast," about the departure of Lane Kiffin. That was, of course, a couple of coaches ago.
And there's a tribute to Scott and Bernadette West, with multiple double-entendres associated with marijuana. The entrepreneur-developers are now reconstructed citizens, and again among the most active leaders of the downtown community. This song is mainly about the events leading up to their arrest almost seven years ago.
If some of the subjects are tired, the performances are fresh. These are four very funny actors who can also sing.
Howard offers the first comic impression of UT basketball coach Cuonzo Martin I've seen, and it's pretty hilarious. He appears in a quiz show, "Know Your Knoxville," opposite once convicted, twice-accused husband-killer Raynella Dossett Leath—who keeps asking whether Judge Baumgartner is single—and a member of a certain buttchugging-challenged fraternity who declines to give his name.
Another skit focuses on that particular event, and some fast-flying lyrics are quotable: "We admit / The martini we must quit / The olives don't quite fit."
You can't blame them for harvesting our low-hanging fruit. Despite some thoughtful positive press lately, the melancholy fact is that the two things Knoxville was most nationally famous for in the last year—especially on social media—were butt-chugging and the bizarre pontifications of Sen. Campfield.
It's pretty much all silly fun. One of my favorites was a look at Knoxville, which opens with a sight gag, a hypothetical simplified map of Knoxville, showing two very long parallel lines: one Kingston Pike, one Interstate 40—before playing with popular prejudices about some of the city's distinctive neighborhoods, east, west, north, south, and downtown (which is seen by "Westies" in terms of "panhandlers, dogshit" and "self-absorbed singles"). When we were asked to raise hands based on where we live, I couldn't help but notice that most of the room didn't own up to living anywhere. It culminated in a reel borrowed from Oklahoma!: "O, the Townies and the Westies should be friends." The one basis of their commonality, as revealed, is sadly apropos.
It's just a one-act thing, hardly more than an hour long, and works fine at that length. Its 10 p.m. start time is an appropriate novelty; unless you live in Seymour, you'll be home before midnight. Every few years we rediscover how much fun it is to stage a light musical revue in a dinner-theater venue, and it generally proves to be popular, but then we skip another few years before trying it again.
The most surprising star of the show is the venue. Big Fatty's is Bearden's offbeat culinary favorite, but it's just a square room full of tables, not previously known for acoustics, and not huge. But it worked pretty perfectly, I thought. About 40 were seated comfortably, most drinking, several eating.
The production may serve to raise awareness and maybe some cash for the Morgan-Swedeen troupe known as Flying Anvil, the new drama non-profit which has been in fund-raising mode since its first announcement about a year ago. Flying Anvil still hasn't mounted a full-service production, but is getting some plausibly national attention for its association with Swedeen's long-cultivated one-woman show, "Pardon Me for Living," now branded a Flying Anvil project and scheduled for this year's Piccolo Spoleto Festival, the prestigious late-spring cultural attraction in Charleston. Meanwhile, Flying Anvil is angling toward a permanent venue for future shows, perhaps downtown.