Revived 'Whale Fat' mixes old follies with new

June 25, 2011 

Mr. Whitekeys really couldn't fail with his reprise of "The Whale Fat Follies" at the Tap Root Cafe. Audience members were chanting bits of shtick along with him, for heaven's sake, delighted to hear well-known routines from decades past. They probably wouldn't have cared whether or not 'Keys did anything new.

He did, though, starting with the cast. Bridget Sullivan and Kelly Lee Williams performed characters such as Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, a dancing moose nugget and a duct-tape-clad Lady Gaga.

Supported by musicians Patti Greene and Sandy Heikes, the three performers cavorted on a stage decorated with elements of "Follies" shows past, including Spam paraphernalia, a sack of Moose Chow, a cutout of Alfred E. Neuman.

The former Fly By Night Club has a different feel now -- Whitekeys referred to it as "a hippie bar" -- but the Tap Root helped take us back in time by offering the option of adding Spam to your burger or your mac 'n' cheese, as well as a "Spammy Sammy Mary" -- an adult beverage made with smoked salmon vodka and, yes, Spam.

The crowd that remembered the Spam-laden Fly By Night Club menu and the old routines no doubt remembered the old performers as well. Nostalgia is OK, but this cast should be judged on its own merits. Sullivan is a gutsy gamine who will do anything for a laugh, including donning a moose-nugget costume, doing a reverse strip-tease with her husband's fishing gear or, as Lady Gaga, explaining her fascination with duct tape thusly: "I adorn this way."

She was a ringer for former Gov. Sarah Palin, wailing out an adenoidal parody a la Cyndi Lauper: "I campaigned in the middle of the night/And exercised my favorite Constitutional right/Oh, Smith & Wesson you're still No. 1/But girls, they wanna have guns."

Sullivan's voice was the best on the stage. She also deserves props for keeping an utterly straight face while dressed as "unnaturally blond Hispanic fish" and belting out the lyrics to "Fishita" ("Don't fish for me in Talkeetna ..."). Those who saw her as the lead in "Evita" back in 2008 will find this particularly amusing.

Williams is a decent singer and a very funny guy. As talk-show magnate Winfrey, he gushed about the beauty of Alaska ("I think I'll buy it") and got a little medieval on an audience member's plate of wings ("Oprah HUNGRY!").

His Barack Obama had not one but two standout numbers. "My Fault," sung to the tune of "My Way," was a lament by a president who feels blamed for everything: "There was a time BP went up in flames/The stock market tanked, I took the blame/Charlie Sheen melted down and Bristol got beat/That old French guy's a hound, I took the heat/I caused it all, I took the fall - and it was myyyyy fault."

Probably the best-received song of the evening was "Bush Didn't Get Bin Laden," sung to the tune of the fast-paced Billy Joel song, "We Didn't Start the Fire":

"Time to get this man, track him down where he ran.

"I find out to my surprise he's shacking up in Pakistan.

"Spying in the modern age, found him on his Facebook page.

"Gave the order, storm the house and shoot the big bad boogeyman!

"Bush didn't get Bin Laden.

"It was the Navy SEALs and they were sent by me, you see.

"Bush didn't get Bin Laden,

"and you can tell your mama it was Rock Obama."

The usual "Follies" elements were there: Accordion music, a slide show of misspelled signs and badly worded ads, the "Woolly Mammoth" song, historical photos and pictures of Alaska. Oh, and naked behinds. At least a dozen of them.

Whitekeys presided over all with his usual avuncular whimsy, looking as relaxed (and unlined!) as if he hadn't been away for five years. If his hair and beard hadn't turned whiter, and politics hadn't turned weirder, you could swear it was still 2006.

Like Alfred E. Neuman, Mr. Whitekeys has nothing to worry about. The club was filled to capacity and probably will be for the rest of the run. It has been extended, by the way, so you have until Aug. 31 to get your fill of official state fossils, Costco references and "The Blue Danube" arranged for keyboard and duct tape.


Donna Freedman is a former Daily News reporter. She writes a personal finance column for MSN Money and blogs at donnafreedman.com.

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