‘Did We Offend You’ highlights the controversial side of musical theater

Nov. 20, 2014, 12:00 a.m.
“Did We Offend You” performed at Roble dorm theatre. Photo by Chris Sackes, courtesy of At The Fountain Theatricals.

In the small, intimate Roble dorm theatre this past weekend, Stanford student performing arts group At The Fountain Theatricals performed “Did We Offend You,” a rousing cabaret of musical theater’s more controversial songs, from “Populism, Yea, Yea” of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” to “If You Were Gay” of “Avenue Q,” in an attempt to provoke conversations about America, religion and sexuality.  The cabaret was expertly created with talented singers and actors and a tightly-run production. My gut reaction to the performance’s title might be a “No, I was not offended.”  However, the production’s intention might not be meant to invoke discomfort but rather to display some of musical theater’s more tongue-in-cheek treatments of controversial topics.

Although the song titles are certainly very titillating, “Did We Offend You” never really strays into truly offensive territory, and one can hardly blame them.  At the Fountain Theatricals was originally producing “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” before conversations with the Stanford Native American community brought up the sensitive nature of the play’s themes.  Many of the songs from “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” ended up in the production, but with the offensive narrative of the play excised, the songs are relatively innocuous on their own.  Other songs in the cabaret run the gamut of non-friendly dinner table conversation topics. But the songs are performed at break-neck speed, giving little time in between to really brood on what “Age of Jackson” or “American Idiot” says about the state of America.

'Did We Offend You' highlights the controversial side of musical theater
“Did We Offend You” performed at Roble dorm theatre. Photo by Chris Sackes, courtesy of At The Fountain Theatricals.

Songs such as “The Internet is For Porn” and “Two Ladies” broached the topics of masturbation and sexuality in a humorously frank way.  “Hello” poked fun at overzealous, naive followers of Mormonism and fringe religions. Moody songs like “Second Nature” and “By My Side” balanced out the more camp song choices with sobering perspectives on these same topics.

But, the overall effect could be described as perfectly vanilla. For example, the classic cartoonish voices in “Corrupt Bargain” and jazz fingers in “La Vie Boheme” are staples of musical theater. The cabaret seems to err on the side of politically correct rather than thought-provoking.  It’s hard not to laugh when Graham Roth takes to the stage with his Hitler mustache and faux accent to belt out “Springtime for Hitler and Germany!”  The ridiculously over-the-top ode to Hitler makes it clear that this song is not to be taken seriously, and laughter, rather than philosophical debate, seems to be the more appropriate response for much of the cabaret.

“Did We Offend You” performed at Roble dorm theatre. Photo by Chris Sackes, courtesy of At The Fountain Theatricals.

But “Did We Offend You” is first and foremost a theatrical production, and in this respect, At the Fountain Theatricals succeeds tremendously.  Sass and attitude are perfectly intonated within the appropriate songs, and the supporting band often added another layer of comedic effect to the performance, with brassy cues to punctuate punch lines, most notably during “The Internet Is For Porn.”  Bright and campy lighting during “If You Were Gay,” and the dark and angsty atmosphere in “Rockstar” complemented the songs, allowing the focus to be placed on the obvious talent on stage.  It’s a tight production, with acts rotating quickly throughout the show.

“Did We Offend You” was a roller coaster ride of a cabaret with a great cast that provided a thoroughly enjoyable experience of humorous sexual antics, irreverent judgments of religion, and a healthy dose of American anti-patriotism.  It’s an entertaining coast through the ages of slightly provocative musical theater. It won’t necessarily shock you, but it also won’t get you to think very deeply about these topics — a missed opportunity.

Contact Diana Le at dianale ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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