Review: Charlotte Squawks 13
By Perry Tannenbaum
The time seemed so ripe for a Charlotte Squawks makeover. Since last year’s Squawks 12: Twelve Angry Hens, Charlotte has been rocked by the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, the riots Uptown, the shame of national headlines, and the awkward agonies of our mayor and police chief. Rescinding the liberalized treatment for our LGBTQ community that led to the notorious HB2 law from Raleigh lawmakers, Charlotte received zilch for its concession, another Queen City humiliation.
So when the word came out that Squawks 13, riffing on the Apollo space drama, would be subtitled Charlotte, We Have a Problem, I held out the hope that Squawks might transcend its ducky cartoon logo and address substantial issues. Sharpen its feeble claws into angry talons.
Instead, the familiar formulas and musical parody format established over the years by producer-director Mike Collins and writer Brian Kahn remained intact. New wine was poured into the old bottles, presented by a slightly altered cast of admirable performers, with customary sensory overload provided by three big screen monitors – streaming memes, produced by John Merrick, that ran simultaneously with Kahn’s parodies.
Lightweight eggs laid by Kahn rolled in one after another, foredoomed by their safe, jejune subjects: parodies targeting rampant Charlotte construction, pussyhats, the craft brewery craze, airport delays, Carolina Panther concussion injuries. Subjects that didn’t figure to deliver hilarity consistently fulfilled their dismal potential. While it certainly was a brave public service for somebody to tell Mayor Jennifer Roberts to do something about her hair, the assault wasn’t the thunderbolt I’d hoped for.
Keith Scott, the Uptown riots, and Police Chief Kerr Putney? Never mentioned.
Not surprisingly, Kahn fares better when he abandons Squawks 13’s implied purpose of taking on Charlotte and its foibles. He finds more fertile soil ranging into more open, less threatening frontiers where the deer, the antelope, and latenight TV comedians roam. Modeled after B.B. King’s raging blues, “The Bill Is Gone” is a lusty attack on the homophobic HB2, and “Give Us Our Way, We’re Republicans” after intermission is a delicious second helping.
Our tweeter-in-chief also draws fire early and late, “Tweet Commotion” before the break eclipsed by “I Deny This Scheme” – with its Donald-Putin innuendo – after intermission. Lest you think Act 2 is pure gold compared to what precedes, beware: successive takedowns of memes, former guv McCrory, Bill Reilly, and Starbucks are all lyrically toothless (though three of the parodied songs are catchy). Collins and his cast make a nice point about the inane predictability of Charlotte 5, but the mockery of Luke Kuechly’s local CPI ad doesn’t even achieve the mediocrity it aspires to.
Collins’ opening monologue and his stints behind the Squawks newsdesk with Johanna Jowett are still punchy, and the new parodies poured into “Bad Day” are worth keeping the annual reprise of Daniel Powter’s song alive. But CMPD’s blunders throughout the Keith Scott debacle merited a spot on the roster of shame.
There’s always an element of schadenfreude watching Collins and his cohorts trying to deal with Linda Booth’s glitzy choreography. Aside from Jowett’s sassy irony, I’m addicted to the annual shots of brassy phoniness that Robbie Jaeger delivers. A new sensation is added to the brash Squawks bird this year, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, who was last on my radar in 2014 as a Blumey Award nominee. That was three years after she represented Central Academy of Technology and Arts Performing Arts Academy from Monroe at the North Carolina Theatre Conference State Play Festival – and took home Outstanding Achievement in Acting honors.
Pairing Obi-Melekwe with Jaeger in the two “Thrill Is Gone” segments is a masterstroke, giving Jaeger a chance to blaze through his half of the blues shouts with white-boy chutzpah and Obi-Melekwe a chance to torch hers with the authentic flame. These showdown performances, half hilarious and half thrilling, upstage the parodies. So I’m hoping something equally loathsome will be gone over the next 12 months, just so I can see Robbie and Nkeki doin’ it again.