Two bright, bouncy and eccentric musicals are gracing local stages. One is "adult" entertainment (although that doesn't require a caveat of erotic X's). The other is "family" entertainment (although you don't have to be a registered compassionate conservative to enjoy it).
At the Club Toot Sweet on Bourbon Street is an original comic reminiscence of the golden age of Bourbon Street. Well, "golden" may be too exalted a word. Let's say "shiny" and let it go at that. Anyway, we're talking the 1950s -- which is one of the reasons there aren't a string of cautionary X's. In the Eisenhower era, a girl might spin the tassels on her "pretties," but she wasn't gonna do no lap dance for an extra 20 smacks stuffed into her garter.
Ricky Graham and David Cuthbert, who wrote the book and lyrics, need no introduction to local theatergoers. Neither does Harry Mayronne Jr., who composed the music. In fact, the cast and crew is a pretty stellar group of veterans. And they create an irresistible bit of tuneful naughtiness.
Actually, "recreate" is the accurate term. Graham, Cuthbert and Mayronne first launched their show nearly seven years ago at Southern Rep. This time out, Graham co-directed with Karen Hebert.
Obviously, Toot Sweet is based on a real-life local scene. But there is a closer connection than that: Cuthbert's father was a ventriloquist who actually played the clubs on the strip, and young master David spent many hours in those exotic haunts.
Toot Sweet doesn't tell much of a story, and yet, it stays entertaining from start to finish. The same can be said, of course, for the Oyster Girl or for what's-her-name who balanced champagne glasses on her ample poitrine. So I guess authenticity pays off in unexpected ways.
Instead of giving away the punchline of jokes or ruining the surprises of the skimpy plot, I'd rather focus on the mood of the piece. The Club Toot Sweet fits in the little theater of Le Petit as snugly as well, if I were Buddy Ray (Bob Edes), the Toot Sweet M.C., I would drop in an off-color metaphor about foundation garments. But let's leave the metaphors to the reader's inflamed imagination. At any rate, Bill Walker's red velvet and mahogany strip joint is so convincing that you can almost hear the idling of the limo of a local politico outside the door. In the same sense, the costumes by Cecile Casey Covert and Roy Haylock are naughty and nice. And the same can be said of Karen Hebert's choreography.
Bravos all around for Jessie Terrebonne, Yvette Hargis, oh-so-well-coifed Bob Edes, Troi Bechet, Madam Sean Patterson (that's right, "madam"!), Roy "swivel hips" Haylock, Amanda Zirkenbach, Susan Heflin, Holly Masson and even that drunken lout of a heckler, Mark Burton. And bravo as well to the rocking four-piece band.
While silly sleaziness is packing them in downtown (only two blocks away from the real thing), family entertainment is doing land-office business at Six Flags New Orleans. Seussical the Musical, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, is based on the works of Dr. Seuss. It is a sort of celebration of Seussdom, through some of the instant archetypes that he created -- like The Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant and the Whos down in their microscopic Whoville.
All people -- and therefore, all writers -- are one-of-a-kind. But it certainly seems that some people, and some writers, are more one-of-a-kind than others. Dr. Seuss is the crown prince of one-of-a-kindness. And I think he would like the double entendre of "kindness."
Director Brant Blocker has made quite a name for himself over the past few years for putting on musical shows that move and groove with a certain freshness. In Seussical, he once again pulls off the trick.
The staging is imaginative and effective. The show seems big, but never fussy. There are many stories interwoven, but somehow the audience is never lost. A nimble Bryan Wagar (as the Cat in the Hat) and a winning 10-year-old David Bologna (as Jojo the Who) take us on a guided tour of Seussdom, with exceptional help from Michael Larché, Michelle Marcotte, Sasha Masakowski, Gabrielle Porter, Randy Juneau and Jimmy Murphy, among others. A tip of the hat to Jauné Buisson (choreography), Charlotte Lang (costumes) and Jonathan Foucheaux (production design). These two musicals are escapist entertainment in the best sense of the word. By all means, escape.