Reprising the successful formula (low humor/high spirits, to paraphrase one song) of Howard Crabtree’s previous Off Broadway hit “Whoop-Dee-Doo!,” the new “Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly” is a gleefully over-the-top musical revue that wears every gaudy sequin and mile-high wig in fitting tribute to the late costume designer. (Crabtree died of AIDS June 28, five days after completing work on the new show).
The campy revue, conceived by Crabtree with lyricist, sketch writer and director Mark Waldrop, features one outrageous costume after another, with elaborate wigs to shame Marie Antoinette. As good as the get-ups are, though, the show would fall flat without Waldrop’s sophisticatedly silly lyrics, a talented and likable five-man cast, and Dick Gallagher’s catchy, upbeat music.
“Pigs” is structured almost identically to the Crabtree-Waldrop “Whoop-Dee-Doo!” of 1993, with the performers playing versions of themselves as they sing, dance and whine about the rigors of wearing Crabtree’s lavish creations. Crabtree appeared as himself in “Whoop-Dee-Doo!,” and his onstage presence is played now by Michael West, an ingratiating actor who fairly quickly overcomes the disconcerting device.
Highlights of the show include Stanley Bojarski’s disgruntled mermaid and the same performer’s peppy community-theater actress. Jay Rogers is very funny in a series of torch songs dedicated to Rush Limbaugh, Strom Thurmond and Newt Gingrich (“Ten pounds of baloney in a six-pound bag”). The show takes on explicitly gay issues in ukelele novelty “Hawaiian Wedding Day,” a vaudevillian hoofer routine called “Light in the Loafers” and a clever ditty with a bewitching twist titled “Sam & Me.”
But perhaps best of all is “Wear Your Vanity With Pride,” a number showcasing Crabtree’s outlandish Louis XIV regalia and Waldrop’s smart lyrics that turn the fops’ narcissism right back at an audience of buffed and tanned bods. It’s a good moment, topped by a surprise that reveals the song’s title to be more than a metaphor. Crabtree would indeed have been proud.