"Sweetie" Tanya Musical's Many Chefs Concoct Potent Dessert

What if Sweeney Todd was a barista?

The musical marvels keep coming. From the tinny, synthetic strains of Caroline Smith's, Julie Potter's, and Wilson's "Coffee Crush" (in which the cafe's dreadful clientele bark their orders like crazed automata) to Thessaly Lerner's, musical director Dave Malloy's, and Wilson's hilariously backhanded ode to West Oakland, with its joyous refrain of "West Uh-Oh Oakland," the collaborators keep us on a caffeine high. Even occasional tuning issues and some mawkish overacting from one cast member (who sometimes seems to think she's performing in a tragic opera at La Scala rather than in a musical satire on the Darkroom stage) barely interfere with our ability to attend Tanya's lurid tale.

When I e-mailed Wilson to find out what prompted him to bring in so many composers, I was surprised by his prosaic response. He'd originally planned to work with a single songwriter, but after three years hadn't progressed very far. "My inspiration was purely practical," he wrote. "I felt that I might have better luck hitting up people for a single song, rather than a whole show's worth." Unusually for the main creative force behind a musical, there's not a trace of egoism in this attitude. Wilson's first impulse was to get the job done, so he perfected the art of extreme teamwork.

This is wonderful, but also ironic. Besides Sweeney Todd and the 2006 Broadway hit Spring Awakening, it's hard to think of a musical with more of an antisocial, fuck-the-world message than "Sweetie" Tanya. Of the work's many powerful visual moments (some of the most lurid involving the inventive use of service implements as murder weapons), the most enduring must be the scene in which Tanya sits alone in the cafe, enjoying a quiet conversation with a variety of baked goods:

Kate Austin-Gröen (left) plays the bitchy barista; Alexis Wong is her perky co-worker.
Dan Wilson
Kate Austin-Gröen (left) plays the bitchy barista; Alexis Wong is her perky co-worker.


Musical direction by Dave Malloy.

Through Jan. 26. Tickets are $20; call 401-7987 or visit

Darkroom Theatre, 2263 Mission (at 19th St.), S.F.

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It's nice to have some peace and quiet

At last, some peace and quiet

Just me and this focaccia

To get me by

How strange that a work born out of such generosity of spirit and rampant collaboration should make me feel like moving to the Nevada desert, building a house with a razor-wire fence, and buying a shotgun. Then again, perhaps that's the point. We strive as human beings to make music together, when the world's ears are more often attuned to solos.

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