Wholesome harmonies and tongue-in-cheek humor are the hallmarks of The Hell’s Kitchenettes — a tight-knit trio of singing waitresses, whose Midtown Manhattan diner seems to forever teeter on the edge of disaster. Not to worry. These gals know how to tackle trouble head-on, and come out on top.
Jackie Cox plays strong-willed, Canadian import Mabel Syrup, James Mills is sweet, innocent Pam Cakes, and Michael LaMasa is Bette Griddler, the group’s capable, no-nonsense leader.
Music and comedy are on the menu, at the Loose Caboose diner. Left to
right: Jackie Cox as Mabel Syrup, Michael LaMasa as Bette Griddler, and
James Mills as Pam Cakes. (Photo by Michael Hull)
Together, these delectable dishes occupy a place in space and time that’s
oodles of fun, yet oddly unknowable. The references are both contemporary and throwback, with any given scene liable to invoke the music of The Andrew Sisters, the friendship dynamic of The Golden Girls, and the let’s-put-on-a-show story arc of Golden Age Hollywood musicals.
At the Loose Caboose diner, the defiant pluck of World War II America
blends with modern sensibilities, like sharp cheese on a salty tuna melt. It’s a loopy, laugh-out-loud formula that works, given wings by drag queens who serve all the requisite sass, but aren’t afraid to pepper the proceedings with moments of contemplation and vulnerability.
“We leave it intentionally ambiguous”, said Cox, of the exact era these
characters live in. “The audience never quite knows when we are, and I’m
not sure if the girls know either.” Likening it to the aesthetic of 1995’s The
Brady Bunch Movie Cox observed, “The world has moved on, but these
characters are stuck in their time period.”
This upcoming Kitchenettes presentation is, essentially, a remounting of their well-received 2018 debut show. This time around, Cox noted, “There are some surprises”, including never-before-seen musical numbers.
That’s welcome news, as the Kitchenettes sing and dance exceedingly well
together — and also shine in solo songs, which speak to the particular
disposition of their character. Plotwise, the press release promises: “When
calamity strikes the Loose Caboose diner, the Hell’s Kitchenettes band
together to save the joint and put on a hell of a show at the same time!”
It’s a narrative template that was repeated, to great success, at last year’s
holiday show, Christmas at the Loose Caboose, in which the girls grappled
with an unusually warm December, the prospect of no customers, and Pam’s age-inappropriate belief in Santa.
The Hell’s Kitchenettes have tight harmonies, and a loose connection to any
specific era. (Photo by Michael Hull)
They’re a formidable team, to be sure, and each one of them has chops to
offer, apart from those well-polished pipes. Jackie Cox is known for her
killer impression of Lisa Rinna, and recently completed her I Dream of
Jackie trilogy (at the Laurie Beechman), in which she played a benevolent
genie tasked with thwarting malevolent forces. Michael LaMasa’s political
and comedic essays have been published by The Huffington Post, and he
also performs in the guise of his cabaret personality, Dottie Maraschino.
James Mills is adept at impersonating the late, great Carol Channing — and has performed in all 13 of the surviving Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas.
As for what’s in store for the Kitchenettes after this upcoming show, Cox
played it close to the vest (or apron, as the case may be). “The original show
is a great introduction to these characters, and the anachronistic world of
Hell’s Kitchen they live in”, she said. “But I’ll give you a preview of what
our next show [summer or fall, 2019] will be about: 1964.” That leap year had Beatlemania, the New York World’s Fair, the opening of
Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, the escalation of US military actions in
Vietnam, and student demonstrations in the streets — a mix of tensions and triumphs very much in keeping with what’s on the menu at the Loose
Sundays at 7pm, Jan. 27 and Feb. 3, at The Laurie Beechman Theatre (inside
the West Bank Cafe, at 407 W. 42nd St.). Tickets are $22 ($35 VIP ticket includes premium seating and a meet-and-greet with the cast). There is a $20 food/beverage minimum. For reservations, visit spincyclenyc.com, or call 212-352-3101. Follow The Hell’s Kitchenettes on social media, via #hkitchenettes.
Scott Stiffler is a NYC-based freelance writer, editor, boxing enthusiast, and Golden Girls obsessive. He’s a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade, Chelsea News, the Washington Blade, amNewYork, and, happily, WERRRK.com. Twitter: @ScottCon77