Two questions have haunted Mark Siano and his Soft-Rock Cabaret since they first hit the stage at Re-bar three years ago with a charmingly (and occasionally embarrassingly) ramshackle collage of 1980s hits, dance numbers, and standup comedy. First: Is this guy serious? Second: Does it matter?
Siano has always seemed at least partly serious—his cabaret never ascended to the condition of satire. Siano sang those Top 40 songs like he meant them, even when they were beyond his range, and his jokes were more a celebration of soft-rock cheese than critical commentary. But Siano's stage persona roughed up the Don Johnson cool with a touch of Falstaffian irony: He never missed an opportunity to make fun of himself and his material if the punch line was good enough. And even while he flubbed, Siano seduced his audiences (more middle-aged and middlebrow than Re-bar usually sees) as they giggled and squealed to every synthesizer-soaked chorus.
Siano's soft-rock rubric has gone by different names during its career: The Mark Siano Soft Rock Spectacular, Super Soft Rock Spectacular, Soft Rock Explosion, Back to the Soft Rock, and now its swan song, The Soft Rock Kid. But its content is always the same: Siano's 1980s vaudeville with the Freedom Dancers roller-skating and flash-dancing around him in a penumbra of leg warmers and leotards.
Siano is killing the music (softly) with a final, oddly autobiographical show. It begins as his girlfriend Joanna (Siano's real-life ex) leaves him, hauling her rolling suitcase offstage in a huff. Siano settles down to a season of single-guy purgatory: bong hits, cheese puffs, and singing soft rock in the shower. A broom-pushing sensei finds Siano and trains him in the art of cabaret stardom. Siano lands a gig and cajoles whoever will grudgingly join him—Joanna, his little sister Lieta, his friends Abigail Guay, Joey Chapman, and others—in his unlikely ascent.
The Soft Rock Kid is only thinly fictionalized. The sensei character, played by Ray Tagavilla, is an amalgamation of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid and a real-life Vietnamese coworker who encouraged Siano to pursue his soft-rock dreams. The local impresario who gives Siano his first big break is, Siano says, "an alternate-universe version of Bret Fetzer" from Annex Theatre (and played by David Swidler, a sharp comic actor who is returning to Seattle stages after a long hiatus). As always, the Soft Rock fans cheer and squirm in their seats as Siano punctuates the comedy with his versions of Astley, Benatar, Collins, and the rest of the '80s alphabet. The cabaret has come a long way since its Re-bar stumbles—slick dance routines, a full band, and so many costume changes, one hesitates to contemplate the dry-cleaning bill.
Why is Siano abandoning the soft rock just as it's hitting its peak? "That music is made for dudes who sing tenor," he says. "I'm a bass-baritone and this stuff is just not my range. I'm more of a '50s-style crooner. Also, I think soft rock is kind of limiting—it's really hard to find soft-rock dance songs. I'm hoping that the reputation we've made for putting on fun, quality shows will translate into other themes." Siano is cobbling together a gig at El Gaucho next month with Swidler and, perhaps, his little sister and ex-girlfriend.
Soft Rock is (almost) dead, but we haven't seen the last of Mark Siano.