Ricky Graham is a theatrical force of nature that never rests. He finished 2008 with Scrooge in Rouge at Le Chat Noir and began work on 2009 on New Year's Eve with the reprise of The Renew Revue. He will be polishing up ... And the Ball and All, his durable paean to Y'at Carnival, for a revival at Le Chat in late February.
"I've got projects backed up like buses, waiting for a parade to pass," Graham once told me.
The Renew Revue is a free-flowing musical potpourri starring Graham, Yvette Hargis, Matthew Mickal and Mandy Zirkenbach with original tunes by Jefferson Turner and one bouncy song by Dane Evans. That upbeat number, sung by a trio of chic bugs, celebrates the Audubon Insectarium. A rocking and rolling roach crashes the party and threatens to upstage the more aristocratic entomological specimens. He informs them that in the event of a nuclear explosion, few would survive — just the roach and Chris Owens.
Graham and Sean Patterson wrote the Renew script. Graham also directed the gifted cast and keeps things moving at a lively pace. Much of the show's humor comes from local references. The inside jokes get a hearty laugh every time, whether they refer to a Gambino's cake, a home in Lake Vista or hizzoner's insistence that New Orleans is a chocolate city.
Sometimes the references are more complex and extended. For instance, Scrooge puts in an appearance, having apparently survived his drag incarnation in Scrooge in Rouge. This time, the miser isn't grumpy about the goodwill and extravagance of Christmas, however. What he can't stomach is the merrymaking of Mardi Gras, so the three ghosts of Carnivals past, present and future visit him.
"Mardi Gras is a little bit of heaven here on earth," one ditty proclaims. This might be news to the Evangelical types who drag huge wooden crosses through the streets of the Vieux Carré to protest the annual pagan revelry, but then again, they're not likely to catch the Revue.
Less fastidious types who like the idea of masking their misbehavior are apt to applaud "The Trashy Can Can," a dance number that returns us to our French roots, garters and all. Next comes a segue of somewhat fractured show tunes. For "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof, the refrain shifts to "Contractor, Contractor." The "You're the Top" series of peaks includes "You're the chest of Miss Becky Allen." Eventually, Renew focuses again on its lodestar with the exhilarating (if somewhat promotional sounding) "There will always be a Mardi Gras."
Graham will clearly be ready for that, too. — Dalt Wonk
The Renew Revue
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Jan. 16-17; 6 p.m. Sun., Jan. 18
Le Chat Noir, 715 St. Charles Ave., 581-5812; www.cabaretlechatnoir.com