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A Pittsburgh Star Wars Cabaret

on Mon, 04/28/2014 - 00:00

The cabaret originated in Paris during the late Nineteenth Century, crafted by the influx of bohemians that occupied the Latin Quarter of the French city and perfected at such famous venues as the Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergère. During the early days of the Twenty First Century, meanwhile, many modern cabarets have found a source for inspiration in the most unlikely of places—Geek Culture. In Philadelphia, for instance, there are the Roddenberries, a “sci-fi multimedia cabaret extravaganza” based on Star Trek and named in honor of 1960s television show creator Gene Roddenberry. The Planet Hollywood Casino in Las Vegas, meanwhile, has Zombie Burlesque, a tribute to the living dead, while Los Angeles witnessed “Across the Whedonverse” in February 2014, spotlighting the works of writer/director Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.

On Friday, May 2, 2014, the Arcade Comedy Theater in downtown Pittsburgh was the scene for yet another combination of cabaret and Geek Culture with “May the 4th Be With You,” a comedic and musical celebration of all things Star Wars. “You do not have to be a major Star Wars enthusiast to enjoy the show—it certainly makes your experience most unique—but the material is written to include all, so if you like comedy you will have a blast,” organizer and host Missy Moreno explained of the event beforehand. “Expect killer actor/comedians performing side-splitting sketches that shed new dimensions on a galaxy far, far away. Expect seeing Jedi mind tricks, thought provoking insights into the inner workings of a teenaged Ewok and a sexy Han Solo! And some covered pop songs appropriate for Skywalkers to croon and probably a RuPaul reference here and there.”

The Star Wars-themed cabaret performance was intentionally set to occur just two days before May 4th, an unofficial holiday for Star Wars fans. “May the Force be with you” is one of the most popular sayings within the films of George Lucas, and the corresponding pun of “May the 4th Be With You”—originally coined by the London Evening News in 1979 upon the election of Margaret Thatcher as the first female Prime Minister of England—has become part of the pop culture vernacular during the decades since. “I love to brag that I am a ‘May the 4th Be With You’ birthday girl, so it is literally a dream come true to theatricalize one of my most favorite fictional worlds on my favorite day of the year,” Moreno said. “I’m so proud that this day has become Star Wars Day, I literally feel weird ownership in that. Like ‘listen up you guys, I was obviously born of midi-chlorian Jedi things ’cause that’s my b-day.’ I was born to sing and joke of Star Wars on stage as kind of a personal mission. I love all things pop culture and geeky and the Arcade has been a great venue for fringe, professional, original work that speaks pop culture, so I am so thrilled we all can lose our minds over Star Wars in this day and age.”

A graduate of Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts, Missy Moreno honed her comedic talents at the Improv Conservatory in Chicago before returning to Pittsburgh and launching Missy Moreno & Friends at the Arcade Comedy Theater. “This series was created out of my love for the quintessential comedy variety shows of ‘old,’ specifically The Carol Burnett Show and Laugh In,” Moreno explained of the inspiration behind Missy & Friends. “I liked how these shows were anchored by a personality, and then the cast were all personalities you loved to love as well. The hook that seemed to keep this show fresh was choosing a pop culture-type theme that everything in the show—sketches, music, improvisational moments—can be inspired by. So far I have produced shows inspired by The Wizard of Oz, a Pride-themed Wizard of Oz, the 80s, and Mad Men. A whole array of things I can write of and our comedy audience at the Arcade seems to enjoy also.”

The cabaret format has evolved since its initial appearance in 1881, combining everything from song-and-dance, comedy and drama, music and recitation into various performances around the world. While Zombie Burlesque in Las Vegas and “Across the Whedonverse” in Los Angeles rely on one style of cabaret, Missy Moreno and her “May the 4th Be With You” celebration was pieced together slightly different. “The format of Missy & Friends is a sketch show with musical numbers and moments of improvisation and musical improvisation hosted and anchored by me, joined by a cast of uber talented friends/performers,” she said. “I don’t love the word ‘cabaret’ but thought the label of ‘sketch show’ was too thin a description. So there will not be booby tassels flying, unless our Jabba costume gets out of hand—sike, there is no Jabba costume! I should have Kickstarted for it.”

Although the styles may be different, Missy Moreno understands the recent trend of combining cabaret-like theater with various elements of Geek Culture, as well as why it has become so popular around the country. “I think that Geek Culture has finally become the coolest aspect of our referential pop loving world,” she explained. “That being said, seeing these large, epic, complex stories we all love being shared on smaller, more intimate terms is exciting and attractive to the performers and the audience that just can’t get enough of Buffy. We love merchandising because we want to hold a piece of that grand adventure that Star Wars brings us, like a souvenir to remember our good times. I think these shows are like live souvenirs that are most special as live experiences—and anything with a musical number is just straight up exciting!”

Missy Moreno herself shares in that enthusiasm for Geek Culture in general and Star Wars in particular. “I love the hero’s journey that George Lucas really captured in A New Hope,” she said of Star Wars. “Lucas being inspired by Joseph Campbell’s work appeals to me as well, because I am a sucker for all the archetypes that help tell the human story of finding out your destiny and what side you will ultimately fight for and give your life to. I love Luke and how we get to learn and take the adventure with him. It’s such honest storytelling all inside a new world I can only visit in those films. So cool.”

On May 2, 2014, Missy Moreno & Friends transplanted the “coolness” of the Star Wars Universe onto the stage of the Arcade Comedy Theater for a night of comedic and musical entertainment designed to bring out the Jedi in everyone—a fitting celebration of the unofficial holiday known as “May the 4th Be With You” if ever there was one.

Anthony Letizia

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