Burnt at the Steak
August 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 2012
I had a number of people tell me that Burnt at the Steak, the Best of the Fest winner at this year’s Calgary Fringe Festival was spectacular but that I might not like it due to the fact that’s it’s a musical. I dismissed this as unfair. It’s not that I don’t like musicals, I just don’t like musicals with vacuous writing, vapid lyrics and fluffy plotlines strung together for the mere purpose of increasing the moments when the characters can burst into yet another over produced song and dance number. Unfortunately for me, I feel that this describes most musicals.
Anyway, back to the play at hand. While everyone seemed to want to caution me about the music part of the show, no one was courteous enough to warn me about the fact that Burnt at the Steak was sophomoric, overly broad in its storytelling and frankly a bore. At least, that was my experience of the production.
The solo show that has Valentino playing 18 roles, is her personal story about an Italian Texas girl who wants to break into show biz and who, on the prodding of her pushy mother, moves to New York to try to make it big. What Carolann ends up doing instead, is managing one of the biggest steak houses in town and making $200,000 a year. So she’s successful, but not exactly living the dream.
During the play we get introduced to all the zany stereotypical characters Carolann has to deal with at the Steakhouse. But just because the staff and customer characters are based on real people, doesn’t mean they are funny. At least not the way Valentino writes and plays them. We meet the ditzy hostess with the hair flip, the thuggish/boorish maître d’ with the pelvic thrust , the drunk customer trying to cop a feel and so on. Not only were these depictions obvious to the extreme, the characters were so one dimensional and repetitive in their humour that I was tired of the act within the first 5 minutes.
Then there were the hackneyed Vegas-style interactive ‘make em laugh’ bits in the show where Valentino (quite the looker in a short skirt) calls men up to the stage so she can dance suggestively and write around on them for comedic effect. It had the audience roaring with laughter no doubt, but I find this kind of cheap and lazy storytelling boring and passé.
Ironically, it was Valentino’s singing that I found was the least egregious part of the show. Armed with a fairly decent voice and some clever lyrics, including a song about the proper way to serve meat to the tune of Do Rae Me from the Sound of Music, her musical interludes were often cute and at the very least a break from the assembled cardboard characters she kept parading.
The point of the show was to illustrate how Carolann finally tires of her high paying job with all its downsides and decides to quit and follow her true passion. Good for her I suppose, life is too short not to live your dream. But by the time this moment comes in the play, I am so beaten down by poor writing and storytelling that I could care less if she never sets foot on a stage, as long as she got off this one soon.
Harsh perhaps? And with the Best of the Fest award I’m obviously the one person that didn’t like the show? Well I spent a lot of time looking around at the audience during Burnt at the Steak to see if I was in fact alone in my dislike. What I found was a distinctly polarized crowd. About ¾ of the audience was laughing hysterically and having a grand old time. But then there were the rest of us, arms crossed, unsmiling and looking at our watches impatiently. So I suppose I have no choice but to conclude that this is just one of those ‘either/or ‘ kind of shows and unfortunately for me…. I fell on the ‘or’ side this time.
For everyone – It comes down to whether you like this kind of mainstream Vegas-style comedy. The show itself is certainly energetic and Carolann Valentino’s singing voice is strong. I guess the question is whether you think a woman coming out at the start of the show holding provolone cheese tied in a string hammock saying, “do you like my balls?” is funny or not. MAYBE SEE IT