Johnny Showcase and The Lefty Lucy Cabaret: Totally Groovy Fun.
You take a chance any time you receive a call to meet up with South Philly theater performer and musician David Sweeny.
Sometimes you’ll find a sweet, funny and expressive 33-year-old. But on days like today, you’ll find a crude crooner clad in red flared pants, an orange brocade jacket and a button-up vest exposing a large gold medallion around his neck and tufts of chest hair.
Other members of the group wander around the Italian Market in South Philly, dressed in equally distinguishable attire. It’s hard to know if you should call them by their real names (Vince Federici, guitar, Micheal Baker, tambourine and backing vocals, and Adrienne Mackey and Liz Filiers, choreography and backing vocals) or their Cabaret characters (Vinnie “The Lion,” Showcase’s spiritual adviser Rumi Kitchen and the two halves of “The Truth,” respectively).
The band is shooting a music video for the song “Hit It From the Back” and they step inside The Rim Café on South 9th Street to get a few takes. The café owner is blaring the band’s music and handing out frozen chocolate espressos like he is taking a queue from their song “Cocaine Sandwich” (“Hey whatcha sharin’/ gotta give a piece to me”).
By this time, with the large sunglasses removed from his face, you can see David Sweeny again. Though it was his alter ego and bandmates who helped bring him here, Sweeny is happy to be one of Philly’s most trusted groove-makers and party-starters.
“If it was just David Sweeny playing, people would be like ‘eh,’” he says. “But if you can channel songwriting through a character, you can say and do whatever you want. Then there are eight people behind you saying the same thing. It’s like, numbers make it true. What has drawn us together is the theatricality of it and the joy of it. That’s actually more of what’s kept us together. It brings joy to other people and it brings joy to us. We get to sing and dance and make people laugh at the same time. Those are like the three most beautiful human reactions and experiences happening simultaneously. When that’s happening, it’s infectious.”
The group’s shows are for swing dancing and sing-alongs. What this collection of musicians, singers and dancers enjoys most about the project is that it allows the ability to let go and to take the audience along for the ride.
“It was really hard for me to put on this character at first because I was having so much fun I just wanted to smile all of the time,” says Filiers, who is one half of The Truth, the stern-faced back-up singers and dancers for the Cabaret. “One of the rules of The Truth is that you have to be completely vacant and it’s been hard to just contain my excitement so that I can get into character fully.”
“The lyrics are smart and funny,” says Adrienne Mackey, the other half of The Truth. “It’s like right brain and left brain. They’re both useful. It just depends on what you’re trying to do. If you want to sit and contemplate and go inward, then that’s one kind of music. But if you want to be outward and dancing and grabbing somebody and just like smashing their face in yours …”
Johnny Showcase and the Lefty Lucy Cabaret are perhaps best known for its feat in 2009 of putting on a full stage show to Prince’s album Purple Rain. Though the show has gone through multiple levels of theatricality since then, Sweeny says the band is now focused on perpetuating the fact that it is “a band and this is a dance party.”
They are constantly writing new music and are making a serious push to play and be recognized outside of the city. Their efforts have recently paid off, as the band has started playing in New York City at Rockwood Music Hall and had a gig at Manhattan late-night music bar Fontana’s in September.
“If we just play in Philly for our friends, then that’s a good career, if that’s all that happens,” Sweeny admits, “but we’d like to play for other people because we feel like it could spread out.”
Whether it’s Sweeny or Showcase you meet on the street in Philly or anywhere else, you won’t be disappointed.