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Grade: A+

The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse couldn’t have picked a more perfect show for audiences to sample the potential of next summer’s Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival.

Like the ingredient in a recipe that balances out the dominant flavor, “Cooking with the Calamari Sisters: Mangia Italiano!” is just the right kind of musical to complement the big-stage spectacle of a typical playhouse show. It’s no less delightful than an “Anything Goes” or a “Hairspray,” but it’s on an altogether different wavelength: one that’s more intimate and spontaneous, and just a little bit naughtier.

There’s no better explanation for that quality of “Calamari Sisters” than me recalling my abrupt guest appearance in its opening night performance.

That’s right: I was on the stage. I even danced (horribly) and had my own sight gag. As one of three people plucked out of the audience to help sisters Carmela and Delphine prepare their signature Italian dishes, I was made part of the show, and because of the Calamari’s amazing talents, the show changed around me.

After walking on the stage, Delphine grilled me about whether I was Italian and/or Catholic. She did the same to the other two audience guests, and despite the three of us giving wildly different answers, the quick-witted cook always responded with an amusing quip of poorly veiled judgment.

Then I was given my apron. After Delphine suited me up and I turned to the audience, my face went tomato red as they roared at the sight. Clueless, I looked down: The apron depicted the torso and genitals of Michaelangelo’s “David.” (If I may boast, even I earned a few chuckles when I “covered up” later in the scene.)

Much of my time on the Auburn Public Theater stage was centered on the sisters’ attraction to me. Carmela gestured for me to call her. Delphine groped my bicep while I pounded chicken. Carmela tried teaching Delphine how to woo me by “dropping it like it’s hot,” which resulted in me getting a butt-ful from the clumsy older sister and later lifting her off the ground, where she had landed in an unsightly spread eagle position.

That the ladies could make laughs out of my visibly awkward presence on the stage speaks loudly of their experience and improvisational skills. By the end of the show, that charismatic reach had endeared the sisters to the small audience, and they seemed to be on a first-name basis with much of the first few rows.

Though the audience interaction and frequent ad-libs distinguish “Calamari Sisters” from its playhouse cousins, the show also has much in common with classic musical theater. The sisters’ promiscuity and Italian ancestory are the basis for several riotous jokes, the story of Carmela leaving their cooking show for a gig in Boca Raton  holds up a moving dramatic arc, and songs like “Mambo Italiano” and Carmela’s eclectic medley of modern pop are deliciously catchy.

But what “Cooking With the Calamari Sisters” does best is distance itself from the playhouse’s usual fare — and stake out a very promising creative landscape for next summer’s festival.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter at drwilcox.




If you go

What: “Cooking With the Calamari Sisters: Mangia Italiano!”

When: Through Aug. 20

Where: Auburn Public Theater, 8 Exchange St., Auburn

Cost: Tickets $30-$41

Info: Call 255-1785 or visit