REVIEW: Flaming Dames Bourbon Street Burlesque

Let the good times roll!

BSB3_Photo by Leslie Kerrigan

New Millennium Theatre presents:

The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque

through 27th at The Spot, 4427 N. Broadway (more info)

review by K.D. Hopkins

 

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

That means “let the good times roll”, and they were rolling in Uptown on a cold Saturday night. The Spot on Broadway was the place to be and The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque was a bawdy good time. This was burlesque in more of a variety show genre than some of the other revues making the rounds. That is the old BSB1_Photo by Leslie KerriganNew Orleans tradition that is a delicate balance of naughty dancing and what used to be called blue comedy.

The Spot is a labyrinth of rooms and yet wide open which is reminiscent of a New Orleans dance hall such as the gone and lamented Tipitina’s. It was the perfect setting as we settled in with a couple of Voodoo cocktails. The pineapple and mystery liquor worked its magic as the emcee Remy the Gator LaRue took the stage. LaRue was a host in the Harry Anderson tradition wearing the fedora and a sly smile. I was a bit disappointed that he was not more a part of the show with some slight of hand and rim shot punctuated one-liners. He introduced the very able show musicians Bangin’ Bobby Bayou and the Missionary Position Band and then the “Flaming Dames”.

The ladies had appropriately kitschy names that brought howls and whistles from the audience. Lady Laveau, Victoria Voodoo, Zoe Zydeco, Bourbon Street Betty, and Cajun Spice were a lovely group of talented dancer and singers, replete with chorus girl style dances that ended mostly clothed with a tease of pasties.

One of the hallmarks of burlesque is individual talent such as fan dancing, contortion, spinning tassels and such – it’s disappointing that this doesn’t take place in this show, as it could have showcased the ladies better). This is a group revue that could have give more individual justice to the dancers, though still a vivacious and beautiful group who definitely are having a great time clicking (among other things) with the audience.

The comic relief is in the ample form of the hostess Queen Bee and host King of Mardi Gras. Queen Bee is straight out of “Wigstock” with the huge hair and enormous assets. The King of Mardi Gras should be the comic foil to Queen Bee, and If he would play it as the head of a New Orleans Mardi Gras crew, it might come off a bit funnier. Instead, the King acts more like a frat boy wandering the Quarter after a thermos of Hurricanes in his underwear.

BSB2_Photo by Leslie Kerrigan

The banter between King and the Dames starts off like a fight on a trashy daytime show. In fact, one of the audience members started chanting “Jerry! Jerry!” As the show continues, however, they manage to salvage the comedy.  But a honing of comic skills would be in order. The best vaudeville and burlesque comics master the art of the double-entendre and deliver adult humor with a knowing wink instead of gratuitous f-bombs. But one must surmise that the low-brow trivia questions with the audience members was overall a success the night I went by the fact that a spectator took off his shirt. The colorful beads were flying and he got as many appreciative screams as the dancers.

The show features a great recorded soundtrack that’s full of the kind of slinky and suggestive music that one might hear emanating from bars in the Big Easy. The show is about 45 minutes long – a perfect amount of time to down a couple of Voodoos as the show reaches completion.

The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque is a fun and rowdy way to warm up a winter night. You’ll no doubt feel impervious to the wind slicing down Broadway when walking to the train, considering you experienced a winning combo of great dancing and music. And the Voodoo cocktails hit the spot. What are in those things anyway?! Enjoy responsibly.

Rating: ★★½

BSB5__Photo by Leslie Kerrigan ASIDE: Personally, I had a great time and came home with a few beads around my neck. No, I did not flash my goodies – I answered a trivia question correctly and thus more decorations for the Christmas tree this year.

The Flaming Dames in Bourbon Street Burlesque” plays Friday and Saturday nights through February 27th at 10:15 pm. There are no shows on the 12th or 13th but there will be special Mardi Gras shows on Tuesday, February 16th. The Spot is located at 4437 N. Broadway near the Wilson Red Line or 36 Broadway bus. Either route is vaudeville warm up on weekend nights. Have fun!

REVIEW: Breakfast Club – the 80s Musical (iO Theater)

Late-night musical re-enacts iconic Hughes film

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iO Theater, Wrigleyville, presents

Breakfast Club: the Totally ’80s Musical

Adapted and Directed by Jason R. Chin
Through March 25 (ticket info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Driving down to see iO Theater’s late-night Breakfast Club: the Totally ’80s Musical, I tried to recall the salient features of that distant decade. Other than my own wedding and all the social, political and international goings-on summed up in the name Ronald Reagan, I couldn’t think of much. It was a fairly colorless era.

bc10 However, this show isn’t a paean to the totality of the 1980s, but only a tiny portion of it: John Hughes’ 1985 teen-angst cult film "The Breakfast Club." Set in Shermer High School, a fictional version of Hughes’ Northbrook alma mater, Glenbrook North, the show mixes dialog from the movie with nearly a dozen 1970s and ’80s songs performed by the cast in choreographed routines.

The film’s success lies in its combining the archetypes of high school: The Brain. The Jock. The Princess. The Basketcase. The Rebel. Whether you wore your hair shoulder length or in a mullet, dressed in tie-dye or bubble skirts, you knew them. This homage brings them back to life.

With Mark Lowe as Mr. Vernon; Tim Dunn as Brian Johnson, the Brain; Brian Finlay as Andy Clark, the Jock; Jessica Joy as Claire Standish, the Princess; Mary Cait Walthall as Allison Reynolds, the Basketcase; and Jeremiah Howe as John Bender, the Rebel; the cast re-enacts the Saturday when the five teens were unexpectedly stuck together for a day-long detention, punctuated by song and dance numbers set to the likes of Billy Idol’s "Rebel Yell" and Michael Jackson’s "Beat It."

Although this kind of like a live-action version of a video on YouTube (where you can see a dozen such re-enactments created by actual high-school students, mixed in with homemade music videos featuring "The Breakfast Club" movie clips), the iO cast has undeniable talent. In some cases, I thought their characterizations were better than the originals — and good voices. Musical Director Seth Tucker and Michele Tucker ably accompany on guitar, drums and keyboards.

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Erica Reid and Jeff Gandy‘s jerky, self-conscious choreography imparts a good deal of the humor, coupled with the actors’ largely deadpan re-creations of the characters.

Productions like this one are a reason I have trouble with rating systems. Lightweight and silly as it is, "Breakfast Club" is a sweet show, and if I were to rate it strictly on its own terms — just on what it’s trying to be — I’d give it four stars. But when I look at what four-star plays like "Awake and Sing" or "Out of Order" have invested in sets and costumes and playwrights, or the polish that troupes such as The Second City give to their carefully scripted works, it seems excessive to give the same rating to a quirky, bare-bones, late-night re-staging of a movie. So, while I hate to encourage all of those folks who don’t bother to read the reviews but just look at stars, I’m going to come down some for context’s sake.

However, if you remember the 1980s, or at least "The Breakfast Club," this musical might be just your thing.

 

Rating: ★★½

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Notes: Performances are at 10:30 p.m. Thursdays only. The second-floor theater has no wheelchair access. Paid parking is available in nearby lots.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Wilson Wants It All (House Theatre of Chicago)

A smart show about an unlikely future

 

Ruth as Hope 1st Speech sharper

The House Theatre of Chicago presents

Wilson Wants It All

By Michael Rohd and Phillip C. Klapperich
Conceived and directed by Michael Rohd
At the
Chopin Theatre, West Town Through March 27 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

"The hard times, the drought…. A shortage so awful that private toilets eventually became unthinkable. A premise so absurd…”

Whoops! Wrong show. That’s from Urinetown, a smart, snappy musical comedy about a dystopian, near-future Hope and Mer w. Wilson on screenAmerica so plagued by overpopulation, water shortages and political upheaval that the government has banned private plumbing. Whereas in the play we’re supposed to be talking about, House Theatre’s Wilson Wants It All — a smart, snappy drama about a dystopian, near-future America plagued by overpopulation, water shortages and political upheaval — the government is working toward a ban on private procreation.

While a musical can get away with an absurd premise, when a drama predicts the near future, it needs basis in present-day facts. U.S. population growth, according to the Census Bureau, is "projected to decrease during the next six decades by about 50 percent." So you can’t credibly blame America’s economic woes on overpopulation, let alone create a crisis so severe that it could lead within 30 years to government-mandated birth control.

This might have been explained away — as, say, the result of a deliberate misinformation campaign, overpopulation as the weapons of mass destruction of 2040 — but it wasn’t. At the outset, then, suspension of disbelief suffers a blow, and the plot continues to batter at it until it unravels fully at play’s end.

Outside of the storyline, though, "Wilson" is a very fine piece of staged science fiction. The grim future world that Michael Rohd, artistic director of the Sojourn Theatre in Portland, Ore., sets out as director so trumps the plot he and The House’s Phillip C. Klapperich have conceived as playwrights that we spend most of Act I delighting in the set, properties and staging.

2 Hopes and Meredith News folks and Wilson

The audience comes in to a clean bare set arranged with six floor-to-ceiling white screens. Both live-action and recorded video intersperse with the staged scenes in fluid and imaginative ways, such as a horrifying interactive billboard that analyzes and reacts to individual consumers. These aren’t new concepts — authors like Frederik Pohl and Harry Harrison wrote about them in the 1960s — yet with many clever details Collette Pollard, the scenic designer, and Lucas Merino, the video designer, ingeniously extrapolate from contemporary devices to show us their terrifying technological future.

We also see some skilled performances. As a kind of Greek chorus of vapid media commentators, Joe Steakley, Elana Elyce, Maria McCullough, Emjoy Gavino, Abu Ansari and Michael E. Smith are right on target, timed to the instant, and add welcome lightness to the play. Wilson in elevator

Some other details of the script work very well, too. America is fragmented into seven political parties. Hardly anyone uses surnames. Most of the characters act younger than their ages. It’s the bigger picture and the major plot lines that don’t make sense.

In Act I, we meet the sprightly Leslie Frame as Ruth: unemployed, 30 years old, and hoping to make a difference in her world. A wan Carolyn Defrin plays her fond, worried but rather naively unworldly mother, Meredith, and Edgar Miguel Sanchez boyishly portrays her earnestly political but inept and — it proves — fickle boyfriend, Remy.

At the other end of the scale, Rebekah Ward-Hays determinedly plays Hope, also 30, the orphaned daughter of a charismatic senator assassinated on the day of her birth. Wilson, the senator’s keen political strategist, laconically portrayed by John Henry Roberts, has been grooming Hope all her life to step into her father’s shoes. An army of aides, headed by Bryan (Kevin Crowley), stand ready to meet her every need. She’s America’s darling, its dream of delivery, and now it’s her time to come forward.

Yet Hope’s not so sure she wants the life Wilson has in store for her. And at the moment of decision, she discovers her Doppelgänger. This futuristic, feminine remake of "The Prince and the Pauper" has potential; the ultimate unveiling of Ruth, Hope and Meredith’s relationship, though tawdry and predictable, has roots in real-life situations.

But by the second act, when the charm of the stagecraft has begun to wear off, revelations of decades-long unrealized love, selfless conspiracy and the ultimate solution ring untrue.

 

Rating: ★★★