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FST's reinvented 'The Flip Side' brings songs in the key of laughs

"The Flip Side" runs through June 1 at Florida Studio Theatre's Court Cabaret.
"The Flip Side" runs through June 1 at Florida Studio Theatre's Court Cabaret.
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Comedy and melody go hand in hand in “The Flip Side” at Florida Studio Theatre. Rebecca and Richard Hopkins created this cabaret revue in 2006 — and reinvented it in 2024. But its flippant sprit remains. 

The revue’s songs still find the lighter side of nuclear apocalypse, death, divorce, old age and killer coconuts. The songwriters responsible are comic legends. Here’s a sample of the show’s selections …

Multitalented mocker Shel Silverstein is mainly known as the author and illustrator of beloved kids' books like “The Giving Tree” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” 

Silverstein’s legacy as the scurrilous songwriter for Dr. Hook and Johnny Cash is now largely forgotten. The Hopkins’ revue reminds us with Silverstein’s “Still Gonna Die” (1998) and “Killed by a Coconut” (1995), co-written with Bob Gibson.

Both tunes are not for tender young ears. Both mock the inevitability of death — and the futility of trying to avoid it. (Note to self: If the coconut doesn’t get you, something else will.)

Speaking of Johnny Cash, Second City alumnus Rick Moranis takes the Man in Black’s standard, “I’ve Been Everywhere” and turns it inside out with new lyrics. Moranis’ “I’ve Been Nowhere” (2005) is now the anthem of an agoraphobic couch potato who never leaves his house.

I ain’t going nowhere, man. I ain’t going nowhere. 

It’s dangerous out there, man. 

Might have been a big bomb scare. 

Hard to get off of this easy chair. ...

The revue’s creators cleverly reframe the song parody as an anthem of Covid isolationism. In the patter preceding the tune, you discover that the pandemic made the singer a shut-in — and they liked it.

Tom Lehrer is one of the all-time greats of snarky songwriting. His humor could be playfully whimsical — or black as night. “The Flip Side” sticks to Lehrer’s dark side. “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” (1959) is straight out of a Charles Addams’ cartoon. (The title says it all.) 

“We’ll All Be Together When We Go” (1959) looks on the bright side of death by total nuclear annihilation. Lehrer radiantly describes it as “a rousing uplifting song that’s guaranteed to cheer you up.” Why? After the big red button gets pushed, there’ll be no survivors left to mourn the dead. Cheery thought, huh?

Ray Stevens is the redneck Rabelais who towered above the late 20th-century novelty song market like Gargantua. He loopy legacy looms large in this revue, too. “The Bricklayer’s Song” (1980) describes the fate of an Irish bricklayer with a poor grasp of physics; “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?” (1987) is a jab at greedy televangelists. (Just two selections from Stevens’ prolific oeuvre. FST could have done a weekend festival with his songs alone.)

Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe’s “I’m My Own Grandpa" (1947) pokes fun at family trees with very few branches. This granddaddy of all novelty songs (and a rip-off of a gag by Mark Twain) has been covered by singers from Willie Nelson to the aforementioned Ray Stevens. It even inspired one of Robert A. Heinlein’s weirder science-fiction stories.

John Forster gets in his licks with “Silicon Slim” (1993), the tale of a hacker told as a witty parody of a Western ballad. The scammer’s digital skim makes him a multimillionaire, one penny at a time. Nobody notices — except for a 7-year-old girl with a starter account.

Bo Burnham’s “Welcome to the Internet” (2021) shines a light on the sleazy hookers, crooks, exhibitionists, con artists, fetishists, trolls and conspiracy theorists lining the sides of the once shiny-and-new Information Superhighway.

Randy Newman’s “I’m Different” (1983) offers kinder, gentler comedy. It’s a whimsical, wistful song about taking your own path and being yourself. Other people think you’re weird — so what? Who cares what people think? It’s performed as an ensemble number with all three singers sporting beanies with propellers. Non-conformity was never so funny.

Catherine Randazzo’s direction takes a fresh, new tack with the revue’s silly song selections. (Strictly speaking, a different old-school tack.) The 2006 premiere had a music hall feel. Her iteration feels more like vaudeville, and it’s fun. 

Michael Werder, Chris Richie and William Selby dance around in Vanessa Russo’s kicky choreography. Her dance numbers always flow from (and add to) each song’s joke. It’s never dance for dance’s sake. (That wouldn’t be funny.)

The talents doing the singing and dancing are all in top form. In some tunes, they’re a trio. In others, one gets the spotlight.

Werder’s hilarious in “Welcome to the Internet.” He does his best Joel Grey imitation as a creepy “Cabaret”-style emcee inviting you to dive into the Internet’s bottomless pool of depravity. “A little bit of everything all of the time.” It’s all yours! Just click.

William Selby (a dead ringer for Steve Martin) also works the creepy side of the street in “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” He makes the most of Lehrer’s heinously happy tune.

Chris Richie is a hoot in Ray Stevens’ “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?” His character is a viewer in a televangelist’s audience. The talking head with the blow-dried pompadour is begging for money. The viewer almost writes a check — until he realizes the preacher’s already sporting upscale purchases on his wrist and fingers.

The production rotates its three pianists (Not literally. This isn’t Cirque de Soleil.) Oliver Townsend tickled the ivories on the night of this review. Music director Darren Server sizzles on Jim Prosser’s arrangements. (Server and Prosser are the other two pinch-hitting pianists.)

This flippant show is very funny. Why?

Comedy’s the most honest art form. Analyzing laughter is a lot like dissecting frogs. Explaining the joke kills the joke. So I won’t. These songs make me laugh — and that’s good enough for me. That said, my funny bone might be in an odd location. My sense of humor embraces the dark side.

When the revue’s songs touched on old age and incipient decrepitude, nuclear holocaust and coconut carnage, I howled. Then I noticed a few Mount Rushmore-esque stone faces in the audience. But just a few. Most folks were howling, too.

So take a walk on “The Flip Side.”

It’s guaranteed to cheer you up.



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

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