“Ben Auxier’s Musical Cavalcade of Fears!” (KC Fringe Festival)
The tagline for “Ben Auxier’s Musical Cavalcade of Fears!” is “It’s a good time to have a bad time” and the show does not disappoint on either front. Styled as a classic cabaret musical revue, Auxier assails the audience with existential anxieties in the form of upbeat tunes. (“Fun songs about serious sentiments,” as he calls them.)
Auxier is a phenomenal MC, full of urgent, enthusiastic despair and he has surrounded himself with incredible talent. He’s backed by a band led by the show’s co-creator Ryan McCall, who also wrote the arrangements, and three extremely talented local singers (Nellie Maple, Brianna Woods, and Francisco Javier Villegas).
The onslaught of existential dread is broken up by some lighter numbers—although to be honest, even those have grim implications, like the interlude featuring imagined versions of popular artists’ works as written by artificial intelligence. (Auxier also admits right up top that his views will not align with everyone’s so if you’renot up for hearing say, a “Schoolhouse Rock” parody about the “abject cowardice” of Tucker Carlson’s “just asking questions” approach to spreading disinformation, this one might not be for you.) But even the bleakest and most harrowing subjects tackled here—like the crushing vastness of space or the “attention economy” that keeps us all hooked on and depressed by social media—are presented in a way that is not just hilarious but ultimately comforting, even uplifting. As Auxier explains it, “sometimes it’s nice to hear that you’re not alone in the things you’re worrying about.”
“Ben Auxier’s Musical Cavalcade of Fears!” is everything we hope to experience when we to go to the theatre—it’s emotionally provocative, hilarious, thoughtful and curious about the human experience and encourages us to be the same. The show premiered earlier this year with a brief two-night run. With only a handful of performances happening during Fringe, this is definitely a must-see while you have the opportunity.
In “Breakneck Comedy of Errors,” Tim Mooney presents the entirety of the Shakespeare comedy as a one-hour, one-man show. That he is able to keep the characters straight for the audience in an already (deliberately) confusing show about multiple mistaken identities, via only a change of headwear and varying vocal affectations for each, is an impressive enough feat on its own but Mooney goes above and beyond, giving us the kind of whirlwind of energy and humor this lesser-performed comedy deserves.
Based on the premise, I would guess that by this point, Mooney is tired of comparisons to the famed “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” which features three actors performing all of Shakespeare’s plays in just two or so hours. Those comparisons are unavoidable and do give Mooney much to live up to, but this production really is something entirely its own. Mooney does add bits of light commentary here and there but the vast majority is an earnest deep dive into the play, using the original text.
To that end, it should be noted that the play is incredibly text-heavy. Anyone coming in with “Complete Works” references in mind in terms of expectations for physical comedy should temper them. The set-up here seems to be modeled in the style of an academic lecture, complete with a projector screen that’s inexplicably never utilized, despite being the perfect placement for the map used to display the play’s various referenced locations, which instead is too small and placed too low for much of the audience to see. Mooney himself operates entirely from behind a podium for the full duration of the show. The podium is clearly necessary for the nonstop prop work, but it creates an unfortunate emotional distance between him and the audience, and eliminates the possibility of more physicality beyond the hat gags, as impressive as the headpiece work is.
Mooney also performs this and other similar works for school audiences. That feels like a better venue for this particular show but it is still a big burst of theatrical energy and well worth seeing if you’re in the mood for a Fringe comedy.
“Ben Auxier’s Musical Cavalcade of Fears!” runs at the Black Box (1060 Union Ave) through July 30. “Breakneck Comedy of Errors” is at the Bird Comedy Theater (103 West 19th Street) through July 30. For more information on these and other KC Fringe Festival shows, visit kcfringe.org.