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‘Charlotte Squawks’ still makes a resounding noise

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.
    The cast of “Charlotte Squawks X” has a rude gesture for every target.
    Patrick Ratchford (left) and Bobby Tyson deliver the roughest denunciations in “Charlotte Squawks X,” targeting former mayors Pat McCrory and Patrick Cannon.
    Congregants of Elevation Church have a moment of financial revelation in “Charlotte Squawks X.”
    The “Charlotte Squawks X” team reflects sadly on the Carolina Panthers’ past and hopefully on their future.

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  • ‘Charlotte Squawks X’

    The annual satiric review returns, and it’s still sharp.

    WHEN: Through June 29 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Also 3 p.m. June 29.

    WHERE: Booth Playhouse, 130 N. Tryon St.

    RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes.

    TICKETS: $24.50-44.50.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000;

One’s teeth usually get weaker and wobblier with age, yet “Charlotte Squawks X” has plenty of bite. Creators Mike Collins and Brian Kahn build both acts toward a savage denunciation of the venality of ex-mayors. Except for weaker numbers that aren’t Carolinas-centric, nearly every punch finds its mark.

Some land softly: Kevin Harris sings a resonant “Soiled Dan River,” indicting Duke Energy’s coal-ash culpability to the tune of “Old Man River.” Some explode: Robbie Jaeger, bizarrely bewigged as Steven Furtick, sucks cash from his Elevation Church congregation to the tune of the heavy metal “Cum On Feel the Noize.” (Congregants shove dough at him, singing “Here’s Our Money, Take It” in the vein of “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”)

Collins, who hosted in a thick boot that relieved him of the obligation to dance, handled “news desk” interludes with Johanna Jowett, who combined naivete and knowingness as his foil. They seemed to be improvising, which (whether they were or not) is the key to keeping a revue fresh.

The two cruelest kicks landed on two political Pat-sies, McCrory and Cannon. By good fortune, genial Patrick Ratchford and suave Bobby Tyson look and sound amazingly like the men they were mocking in “Hard Lines” – for Gov. McCrory, set to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” – and “Patrick’s Cannon,” set to an intricate arrangement of Pachelbel’s famed Canon in D. (The show never sacrifices musical values, and the 11 singers meld smoothly.)

McCrory came off as a man happy to sell jobs for contributions, an empty suit controlled by puppeteer Art Pope (the state budget director who got his own smacks in another number). Cannon, who has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, was portrayed as a cheap, flashy criminal whose most promising future probably lay in feminine hygiene products.

Though the show bills itself as apolitical, the softest jab was directed at the president (“You Need Obamacare” to the tune of “I Saw Her Standing There”). By contrast, McCrory, Pope and the Republican-dominated N.C. legislature took a beating. (Cannon was a Democrat, but crooks rise above politics: They represent only themselves.)

The show lost steam in the second act, with unneeded pokes at Vladimir Putin – mocking a dictator leaves a sour taste in the mouth, because he’s impervious – American Airlines (a too-easy target) and street names in Charlotte, where the jokes were as old and droopy as Spanish moss. Then it picked up steam for a “Let It Go” take-off called “Freaking Snow.”

The adapters work fast: Monologues referred to legislation passed this month. And when they hit their targets, as in “What do the PACS Say?,” the punches sting. (Singers not only riffed on “What Does the Fox Say?” but donned animal costumes.)

There was even a sense of optimism, as the Squawkers celebrated the return of the Hornets and the moxie of Panthers coach Ron Rivera. Should either fall short in the coming season, though, they can probably expect a whipping in “Squawks XI.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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