As a dyed-in-the-wool devotee of those enticing Crescent City chorines, the Shim Shamettes, I cast a jaundiced eye upon a full-color, slick, somewhat provocative little postcard I received announcing The Shim Sham Revue. Alas and alack, I thought, this is the way of the world. The anarchic, innocent, scantily clad and improbably chaste young things (choreographed and inspired by Lorelei Fuller) showed the way. Now the idea has been coarsened and packaged for mass consumption.
However, having seen the new show (directed by Carl Walker and featuring the Southern Jezebelles dancers), I find myself in the dilemma of a man who both loves his wife and adores his mistress. The Shim Sham Revue, like its illustrious predecessor, is quite simply irresistible.
Ronnie Magri's knock-out six-piece burlesque band is still onstage. And the show is still built around the light-hearted naughtiness of burlesque -- specifically, ingenious comic scenarios for lithe beauties to divest themselves of their clothes. But, we are light years away from Hustler magazine and its weird, demeaning misogyny. Instead, we have entered the mild, delightful eroticism of those old girly calendars where a breeze lifted a skirt to reveal a forbidden glance of black lace and the pretty damsel flashed a devastatingly coquettish glance of counterfeit embarrassment.
The damsels in question are Miss Lina Chase ("Jewel of the Quarter"), Miss Pepper Minsky ("The Park Avenue Playmate"), Miss D. D. Delight ("The Demolition Doll"), Mademoiselle Nicola ("La Petite Fleur"), Lady Taboo ("The Sophisticated Savage") and, last but not least, Kitten La Rue ("The Purrr-fect Pet"). I dare not leave out the primo balerino, a muscular and graceful individual named Diablo who receives billing as Miss Lina's Goon.
The strip numbers all have a half-baked historical theme, and while the show hints at the "golden years" of Bourbon Street, it's actually much more inventive and silly (in the best sense of the world) than that association seems to imply. Nowhere on the strip would one have ever encountered the platonic daffiness of a backward strip, (that is, going from nude to dressed), or that hoot of a finale (which I won't give away) to the Apache dance.
The costumes by Oliver, with assists by House of Lounge and Fifi Mahony's, are sensational -- tasteful, exquisite and sly. The same adjectives may be applied to Nina Bozak's choreography, which the girls bring to life with a buoyant and carefree panache.
Of course, the old joke about burlesque was "Oh, I only go there for the comics." But, in fact, in this case the rest of the show is top notch. The svelte, personable Ingrid Lucia serenades us with two bright songs. The imperturbable Todd Londagin, who seems to have issued effortlessly through some time warp from a vaudeville stage, sings, plays trombone and tap-dances with equal facility. And the nonpareil Becky Allen does a saucy, seen-it-all, done-it-all stand-up routine that's as funny as it is outrageous. The emcee with the obligatory double-entendre (or, as often as not, single entendre) for all occasions and a sleaze quotient to match the discomfort index of a mid-August heat wave, is none other than that actor-for-all-seasons Bob Edes.
Tip of the hat to director Carl Walker for this satisfying Sunday night cap to French Quarter weekends.
Meanwhile, over at Rivertown Rep, the American eagle is being reborn to turn-away crowds in Stocker Fontelieu's production of 1776. I never quite know what to make of this odd piece. But I was a minority of one, for the audience was totally at home with the mixture of opera buffa and patriotic epic. Who knows, maybe Ben Franklin and John Adams did stand around while Thomas Jefferson was so engrossed French-kissing his beautiful young wife that he forgot to make introductions, so the cute little old fathers of the revolution had to sneak out the door, making jokes about the salubrious effect a little in-and-out would have on the writing of the Declaration of Independence. For me, I can take that sort of thing better when we're talking about a pajama factory. But, to each his own.
In any case, a strong cast puts the show over in its own peculiar terms. John Brooks, H. G. Stelz and Gary Rucker are John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, respectively -- the strange bedfellows at the center of the drama. They are ably assisted by Michael Santora, a somewhat goofy but ingratiating Virginian; George Sanchez, a conservative from Maryland; Jimmy Murphy, a redoubtable slave owner from Georgia; Kalon Thibodeaux, a courier from the American army; and about 20 other men who, for lack of space, must unfortunately go nameless. The two women, Terri Gervais (as Abigail Adams) and Amy Alvarez (Martha Jefferson), brighten the stage with comely presence and lovely voice.
- Meet the Jeffersons: Martha Jefferson (Amy Alvarez) gives husband Thomas (Gary Rucker) a case of writer's block in Rivertown Rep's presentation of 1776.