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Songs Sung Blue

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Copulatin´ Blues, Raunchy Business, Banned and Knockers-Up. Those are just some of the albums recorded by Ruth Wallis. So says Amazon.com. At another site on the Internet, Wallis is called ´The Queen of the nifty ditties.´ There is a warning appended, however, not to pronounce the phrase too quickly, lest you end up with a double entendre of your own.

Boobs! The Musical, currently on the boards at Le Chat Noir, is a revue based on songs written by the Queen. The playbill tells us she made 10 comedy albums that sold worldwide over two decades. Although, apparently, in some record stores, the albums were kept discreetly under the counter to avoid scandal.

Well, if all this sounds daring and outré, relax. Wallis´ heyday was the 1950s. As far as raunch goes, we´ve come a long way, baby. Boobs! is full of naughty horseplay, but there are not likely to be any angry picketers on the sidewalk in front of Le Chat. The show doesn´t hit a nerve; it targets the funny bone. And thanks to a talented cast, it often hits the mark. Also, the 22 song numbers are bright and melodic and new to many of us. As usual, Harry Mayronne Jr., who accompanies on the piano, is impeccable and manages to convey a sense of ironic appreciation without so much as raising an eyebrow.

Of course, when you go to a show with a suggestive title, your mind is on a downward slope before the house lights even dim. What is that on the backdrop, I wondered. It seems like one of Victoria´s secrets. But which of the naughty bits is it meant to conceal … or enhance -- boobs or bottoms? Perhaps only set designer Konstantinos Kritikos knows for sure.

Anyway, the show kicks off with a nod to the infamous Ms. Wallis, whose world view it purports to divulge. An offstage voice reminds us that the saucy sophisticate appeared in the Swan Room of the Monteleone. Then off we go in a hell-a-poppin´ free-for-all of bawdy fun. To begin with, a mad scientist (the protean Bob Edes) sets about creating his own Frankenstein monster of a love object: a 9-foot-tall Becky Allen, no less. Furthermore, he assures us she´s going to be ´stacked´ -- a ´50s dream wench out of a demented centerfold.

After this bizarre opening, the only logic that rules the proceedings is the logic of laughter. Edes, for instance, metamorphoses at one point into a pink poodle with a rhinestone collar and black ribbons on his ears (thanks to costumer Cecile Casey Covert).

Those famous New Orleans marriages in which both parties ´want a man of their own´ get a workout. In fact, several workouts -- for instance, in lines like ´I always think of my blushing groom, whenever I see the pansies bloom.´ Does that mean this odd connubial tradition exists elsewhere? Or did Wallis have her Swan Room audience in mind when she imagined these gender-bender romances?

Anyway, boobs aren´t the only body parts up for sacrilege. In a hilarious nautical outfit, Rob Thomas prods Maureen Brennan with his not-so-little dinghy. And then, Johnny´s got a yo-yo -- the source of sly comments by Becky Allen, Chris Wecklein and Ann Mahoney.

In addition to the risqué songs and skits, Boobs! zigzags through other related and unrelated territories. Mama dearest Joan Crawford puts in an appearance. As does a Chiquita Banana-like Latin cross-dresser. France is represented by a can-can from the Folies Bergere. Italy takes a bow as a pizza chef and his pizza sweetheart (part woman, part pie).

Of course, there is one uniting factor in this phantasmagoria of forbidden fruit: the mind of Ruth Wallis (and the minds, I should add, of playwrights Steven Mackes and Michael Whaley). So, in its way, the show has an educational component. It retrieves a major minor talent from obscurity. And what an enjoyable way to catch up with a cult figure.

Furthermore, to add to the glamour and status of the event, this production is vaunted as the first outside of New York City. Right here in little old New Orleans, imagine! Director Carl Walker has clearly decided against cool sophistication. He has opted, instead, for vaudeville-style knockabout. I don´t know what dyed-in-the-wool Wallis fans will make of it. But the opening night audience simply had a ball.

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