Still like those old time musicals: SpeakEasy’s “The Drowsy Chaperone”

Part satire and part testament to the magic and escapism of classic musicals, SpeakEasy’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone is a perfectly executed comic romp through what is both musical theater’s golden age and awkward adolescence. It’s difficult to leave the BCA not thoroughly loving the show, just as our narrator Man in Chair (Will McGarrahan) loves classic musicals for all their flaws and nonsensical plot points. Yes, The Drowsy Chaperone is a witty bit of satire, but mostly it activates the same endorphins as the 1920s musicals it satirizes do. And for those that will take the anemic plots and gratuitous song and dance routines of the classics over the talk-singing and pop fusion of today’s musicals, this is for you. The Drowsy Chaperone serves up all the lovable trappings–tap dancing routines, stock characters, sight gags–of the classics with some well crafted satirical wit from its meta show inside a show structure.

Our narrator Man in Chair (Will McGarrahan) begins by telling us from a darkened stage that he hates theater and wistfully imagines what it must have been like to go to a show and get the latest Gershwin. The lights come up revealing a nervous misanthropic musical theater nut (certainly more geek than queen), closeted away in a drab apartment with his mother’s records. Even if his tastes may run towards Gershwin, he chooses to play The Drowsy Chaperone for us, a little farce of a musical that collects a Latin Lothario, a shiny-suited producer with a screechy-voiced aspiring star in tow, an aloof butler, two corny mobsters posing as pastry chefs putting the squeeze on the producer, a Black Amelia Earhart, a flaky old dame, a young love-struck groom whose father has “oil interests,” the object of his affections, a vain Broadway star looking to settle down as a bride, her drunken chaperone, and their wedding planner in a big old house for the wedding of the young couple.

SpeakEasy Stage The Drowsy Chaperone

McCaela Donovan (center, as Broadway star Janet Van de Graff) and members of the company perform "Toledo Surprise" (Stratton McCrady)

With the record spinning, in a literalization of his imagination, the Man in Chair’s kitchen parts (thanks to designer Jenna McFarland Lord), revealing an appropriately campy set for this musical inside a play. With this wedding’s guest list, imagine the plot that ensues! McGarrahan, with an endearing and hilarious quirkiness watches ecstatically, his character sometimes offering us clever mockumentary like bits of backstage trivia to buttress the comedy that’s already there, in the wacky plot, wackier lyrics, some brilliantly rendered tap routines, and the pastry puns that soften the mobsters’ threats on the producer’s well being.

SpeakEasy has given us a well balanced production of this show that is both a celebration of musical theater and a mocking meta-satire of it. It mixes what looks to me like pure revelry of the form and culture with musical pastiche and gimmicks, like the action skipping when the record does…or the snarky number from another musical that goes “what is it about the Asians that fascinates us Caucasians” our Man in Chair accidentally plays when he puts on the wrong record.

Perhaps it’s this nameless Man in Chair character that’s the most delicate balancing act. For as much as he’s a guy with an endearing passion for musicals and capable of great joy while watching them, he’s a lonely shut-in who doesn’t even pick up his phone, much less go to the theater.

Speakeasy’s The Drowsy Chaperone runs through June 19th at the BCA. Tickets @ for about $50.

SpeakEasy Stage Drowsy Chaperone

Karen MacDonald (as The Chaperone) and Thomas Derrah (as Aldolpho) (Stratton McCrady)

♩Da, Da, Da♩ A.R.T.’s “The Blue Flower”

With characters based on German Expressionists Max Beckmann and Franz Marc, Marie Curie, and Dada artist Hannah Höch The Blue Flower, at the American Repertory Theater through January 8th, is certainly not a musical that strikes up an immediate familiarity with most audiences, like I imagine Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark might. But this somewhat arcane source material is only a starting point on which to build a more conventional narrative, familiar to musicals and with little grounding in the biographies of these historical inspirations. One about friendship, love, unrequited love, and loss. Artists Max and Franz go to Paris, they both fall for the party girl chemist Maria, Maria chooses Franz, Franz dies in WWI, where Max plays it safe as a medic and correspondent and survives to enjoy Dada at its height with his new love interest Hannah, before eventually escaping to America alone to avoid any serious trouble with the Nazis–much to the chagrin of Harvard academics! Well, you don’t need Wikipedia to tell you Marie Curie didn’t date artists.

As much as it employs conventional plotting, The Blue Flower is very much outside-of-the-box. Beverly couple and musical novices Jim and Ruth Bauer have created something that revels in its moments of obscurity. Even the production credits page in the program has been translated into something dubbed Maxperanto, a gibberish language spoken by Max. The show moves quickly, darting through the history and art movements between the years 1889 and 1955, without leaving us much time to catch up and reckon with these characters or the depictions of the two great wars and their tragedies. The numbers are densely packed together, leaving characters practically no lines beyond their lyrics to develop themselves with. The Blue Flower‘s double dips into musical theater’s conventions are the only times one has to get one’s bearings.

American Repertory Theater Blue Flower

Conner Christiansen (Typewriter Man), Meghan McGeary (Hannah), and Teal Wicks (Maria) (Marcus Stern)

Our narrator Fairytale Man, played with extraordinary finesse and style by Tom Nelis, does us due diligence by filling us in on our character’s childhoods and backstories with the aid of projections, in an aesthetic similar to that of Jules and Jim, or more recently, 500 Days of Summer, we don’t ever really know who these people are or how they match up to their historical namesakes. But then, perhaps they’re meant to seem like the flat, densely-packed portraits torn from magazines in one of Hannah Höch’s collages, even if The Blue Flower’s Hannah doesn’t make collages. Only Max practices the medium, assembling something like an artists scrapbook of his life–friends and loves lost to the wars and chaos they caused–on a New York City park bench in 1955, in a kind of epilogue and prologue combined.

Marsha Ginsberg’s adaptable and lavishly battered set of a cabaret, with it’s period paintings and peeling plaster, starts with stacked chairs and tables that costumed stagehands position in the minutes before curtain, and soon becomes a WWI battlefield, then one of those rooms Nazis ask people questions in. An additional doorway has been installed just inside the Loeb’s main doors, giving audiences the immersive feeling of entering a cabaret. Walking in, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where the hell is Amanda Palmer?” She wasn’t there. But Meghan McGeary was, playing Hannah, an avant garde Dada performance artist with eyes for Max. McGeary’s been playing Hannah since the show’s initial (and from what I’ve read, inferior) New York productions in 2004 and 2008, and she shows it, with a huge, expressive voice. Palmer may have the living puppet thing down better, but McGeary delivers some outstanding solo numbers with enough physicality and talent to get Hannah a gig opening for The Dresden Dolls.

American Repertory Theater Blue Flower

Full Cast (Marcus Stern)

Unlike in last season’s Paradise Lost, projections work and are well done here. Culling together footage by Hans Richter and Man Ray, the projections provide much of The Blue Flower’s spectacle and character by adding a touch of indie film quirkiness, irony, and iMovie editing and effects to the Dadaist cinematic style. The choreography is a little blah, especially through Act I. We see far too much air guitar style painting in the direction of the audience. Perhaps “movement director” Tom Nelis was too busy nailing his role as the Fairytale Man. The dancing picks up in Act II, in numbers like Not a Flaw and with some of Hannah’s performance art.

Performed by an on-stage solid band, the music maintains a signature twang. Composer Jim Bauer describes it as “Kurt Weill going tête-à-tête with Hank Williams.” Of course, this tête-à-tête is happening somewhere along Broadway, as the music isn’t usually as edgy as either Weill or Williams. But, it makes things interesting enough, especially backing up this well-lit and well-directed (by Will Pomerantz) multimedia spectacle that went off with out hitch.

The Blue Flower runs through January 9th at the American Repertory’s Loeb Drama Center. Tickets start at $25.

Breaking the Curse: The A.R.T.’s “Johnny Baseball”

Among Boston’s theater circles this year, the A.R.T. has been mythologized with its own curse, or perhaps, Diane Paulus’ curse-breaking. As the story now goes, the once audience-alienating company has been rejuvenated by a new populist marketing message and a more limber interpretation of its charter mission. Their importation of a few proven hits as well as shows that try their hardest to straddle the gap between old hat headiness and the new hat’s “populism” lead to the two biggest hits of the season; Sleep No More, which I’m sure they would’ve kept around longer if they could’ve, and Boston’s new Shear Madness and Blue Man Group, The Donkey Show. Paradise Lost and Best of Both Worlds may have been bombs, but the rest of the season carried enough extra weight.

In my opinion, next season is looking up, but Robert Orchard is baaaaaack and from the looks of next season’s lineup at Arts Emerson, I predict some competition. And it’s Emerson who nabbed Elevator Repair Service for The Sun Also Rises.

Anyways, back to my metaphor. By breaking their curse and ushering in an inning of financial success (or at least subsistence), the A.R.T. has brought a new curse upon itself, displeasing the old-line and more than a few critics with shows like, well, Johnny Baseball. Winning in the theater isn’t nearly as simple as winning in baseball. Johnny Baseball, as one would expect and might’ve read, is wicked conventional, so much so that, if it didn’t require such a large cast, I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a seasonal theater fixture for tourists, locals, and local non-theater-types alike. I’d rather not get too deep into the plot here, because it’s not very interesting, and (unless you’ve kept away from the TV and movie theaters for the last 25 years) you’re probably able to fill in most of the blanks.

Johnny Baseball ART

The ensemble of ardent fans (Marcus Stern)

Johnny Baseball re-writes the Curse of the Bambino legend, explaining the Red Sox’s 86 year losing streak as having nothing to do with the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, but rather sources it to the failed interracial relationship of Johnny O’Brien (Colin Donnell), Babe Ruth’s (Burke Moses) fictional Sox teammate. O’Brien falls for Daisy Wyatt (Stephanie Umoh), a black jazz singer whom the Red Sox’s owner quickly shoos out of town. O’Brien loses his pitching arm and his girl, and while there is a reunion years later, it’s not all too redeeming, as the play’s time line requires all 86 years of the Curse to eradicate racism.

While the musical does a pretty good job of picking up on the spirituality and local flavor of the game and translating it into accessible and comic songs and thematics, that spirituality and sincerity is corrupted by a bland telling of historical race politics (Willie Mays even makes an appearance) that seems cribbed from some middle-school-reading-list historical fiction. It tries its hardest to preserve the popular divinity of the game, casting Babe Ruth as a coarse comic god (he clowns a home run, serves as matchmaker, frequents dens of inequity, and talks about “coaxing dames into his death bed”) and O’Brien (here, the embodiment of the game) as an innocent who just can’t seem to understand black & white. It’s only Daisy that’s capable of getting the implications of their relationship, and is more sympathetic towards, and protective of, him than he is of her–even if O’Brien can’t understand why.

It’s by no means a straight historical narrative. All this drama is further dramatized by being wrapped up with a cultural experience, that for most, is a little closer to home base–the 2003 World Series 2004 ALCS. We get fans praying to God for a win, offering to quit smoking, get a job, and become a nun. And we get Robby, an optimistic child-fan up in the bleachers that’s befriended by a wise old black guy who tells this story to him and us. Not a very original device, yes?

Johnny Baseball does succeed within its conventions. The band was on and the jokes are funny. The local humor is snappy and not cheap, and these out-of-town actors nailed the comedy and had wicked good Boston accents. The set was simple with its utilitarian sections of bleachers and screamed Boston with some well produced signage of our local landmarks; Fenway and South Station. Watching the show, I think I subconsciously dismissed the plot, opting to connect the dots myself (based on years of bad movies, TV, and books) rather than watch for predictable plot points. While Johnny Baseball may have not been an active experience for me, I can’t say it’s not tightly produced and smoothly directed by the maestra herself, Diane Paulus. And the A.R.T. might be onto something with a hot dog cart at intermission.

The American Repertory Theater‘s Johnny Baseball runs through June 27th @ the Loeb. Tickets $25-$75.

Johnny Baseball ART

Colin Donnell (Johnny O'Brien), Burke Moses (Babe Ruth), Joe Cassidy, Jeff Brooks, Robert McClure, Stephanie Umoh (Daisy Wyatt) (Marcus Stern)

A Trailer Park Pulls into the South End

We tend to think of The Theatre, almost any theater, as a progressive form that, because it’s artsy or “elite,” is going to be somehow ahead of the curve of mass media. But, I’m always amazed how slow on the uptake Broadway, or at least its regional exports, can be. SpeakEasy’s current show, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, despite its genre- and self-aware title, revels in the Blue Collar Comedy Tour humor that most theater goers would roll their eyes at, if it didn’t happen to be set to music at the BCA. As far as comic explorations into these ubiquitous semi-mobile suburban ghettos, the Canadian television mockumentary Trailer Park Boys is much more interesting, compelling, human, and, a lot funnier.

This white trash comi-drama sports a few clever production and plot elements, but never uses them to their full potential. A Greek chorus trio of Armadillo Acres’ leading ladies (Kerry A. Dowling, Santina Umbach, and Mary Callanan) lead us through the marriage crisis of Norbert and Jeannie Garstecki (David Benoit and Leigh Barrett), but the narrative device is used more for comic deviations and asides than anything else. Jenna McFarland Lord’s set of propane tanks, satellite TV dishes, pink flamingos, and lattice work includes a few massive plastic palms that frame the entire stage in lawn ornament kitsch, signaling that the lowbrow extends beyond the limits of Armadillo Acres (the show’s trailer park setting) and back into the musical itself, with disco numbers, set piece gags, and a protracted joke on flan. A very Shakespearean storm sets the plot’s resolution in motion (unfortunately the plot doesn’t rise to the metaphor), and a trailer’s wall rises to reveal its interior–kind of like the set-based anthropological study in Godard’s Tout va Bien. But, I’m probably pushing it there.

Jokes about husbands on death row, Mazola suntans, ditsy blondes, strippers, and tall boys come off lukewarm, as you squint to read the writing on Mary Callanan’s t-shirts. Duke (Grant MacDermont), a marker-sniffing psycho (though he proves to be relatively harmless) after his on-the-run stripper girlfriend (Caitlin Crosbie Doonan) makes light of real addiction. Take the music out of this musical, and it just might work with the same Jeff Foxworthy crowd it admonishes, as much as it tries to humor its liberal audience that’s used to living a world away from the likes of Armadillo Acres. We do get some solid local vocal talent pushing some catchy well choreographed routines, just not the social satire or drama I could see coming out of the subject matter. Dowling, Umbach, and Callanan all developed their characters well (even if they are cartoonish) and Umbach (just a Junior at Boston Conservatory) holds her own with the show’s more established talent.

The SpeakEasy Stage’s The Great American Trailer Park Musical @ the BCA through May 30th. Tickets: $30-$54.

Mary Callanan, Santina Umbach, and Kerry A. Dowling (Mark L. Saperstein)

Caitlin Crosbie Doonan and David Benoit (Mark L. Saperstein)

Shakespeare Gone Japanese: The New Rep’s “Hot Mikado”

Hot Mikado, David Bell and Rob Bowman’s 1986 musical, now at the New Rep, is a swinging Shakespearean comedy of the love between Nanki-Poo (Cheo Bourne) and Yum-Yum (McCaela Donovan). Nanki-Poo, the estranged son of the Mikado, visits the city of Titupu in the guise of a vagabond trumpet player. Yum-Yum is engaged to her ward Ko-Ko (Calvin Braxton), the Lord High Executioner. As the wedding approaches, along with an order that an execution must take place in Titipu within 30 days, chaos and hilarity ensues.

Though Hot Mikado is set in Titipu, Japan, circa 1939-40, the costumes, music, and lyrics reveal an entirely separate and Americanized setting. In fact, the only representations of Japanese culture are stereotypes: a single cherry blossom tree that charmingly graces the side of the stage, a few foreign characters on a sign, a few elegant flowered-covered fans, and vague references to modesty. Otherwise, the stage is set with bold oranges and reds, as the characters parade out in 1940s style suits in purple and red and shimmery dresses in turquoise and teal.

The musical, seemingly, rejoices in these references. When a note from the Mikado arrives to the city, the actors pour over it for an agonizing minute, horrified that it is written in Japanese. Moments later they sigh in unison, remembering that they are Japanese.

The comedy of Hot Mikado is self-referential and satirical. The Lord High Executioner is a careful man with round thick-framed glasses, a silk robe, and ascot. He is a well-known flirt in a city where flirting is a capital offense, appointed to his role in order to extend political favors to his friends. As he sings I’ve Got a Little List, he proclaims all the taboos that deserve execution (i.e. shaking hands too hard, eating peppermint). He waves his saber with a giddy smile as the three chorus singers duck and jump out of the way, their voices squeaking and cracking in fear as they are ensnared by yards and yards of Ko-Ko’s list.

The cast of Hot Mikado (Andrew Brilliant)

He also takes jabs at the band, adding swing musicians to the list of possible executions, as the chorus members tackle the pianist to save his life. Along the same lines, Ko-Ko chastises other members of the cast several times to stop interrupting his “soliloquizing.”

Titipu is a society of laws and status. Central to the play is a ban on flirting, punishable by execution, carried out by the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (Calvin Braxton). Pooh-Bah (Edward Barker) assumes the role of every other government official, though their priorities and morals conflict in varying and humorous ways. The Mikado (Kennedy Reilly-Pugh) commands respect effortlessly, with his smoky jazz voice and smooth tap-dancing.

Titipu is also a society defined by music, replete with wild swing dancing and jazz hands. Indeed, Nanki-Poo’s disguise is uncovered because he can barely sneak out a note of his trumpet. In Three Little Maids, Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo (Michele DeLuca), and Pitti-Sing (Aimee Doherty) update the song with jazz riffs, their voices jumping a scale each verse, staying in perfect harmony.

Defining their world by music has its flaws. When Katisha (Lisa Yuen), the cougar who wants to claim Nanki-Poo as her husband, struts out in red and black, shaking feathers from her headdress over the stage, the audience is ready to dislike her. However during her soulful, bluesy ballad The Hour of Gladness, she sings on her knees with such unfettered anguish that it is impossible not to root for her.

Of course, the arrival of Katisha spurs a blues versus gospel sing-off, with the entire cast against her. Though the church-bell filled gospel music starts depressingly and grudgingly, it soon changes to the mixed harmonies of a swing song with scat cords. While Katisha can certainly hold her own on stage, the jubilant, rhythmic hand-clapping to lyrics such as “We do not heed your dismal sound / the joy reigns everyone around” eventually drive her away.

Other memorable numbers include Howdy Do, which was sung practically all in one breathe with cringing, jaunty movements from Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo, and Ko-Ko. Also, Tit-Willow, in which the corpulent Ko-Ko prances around the stage in faux-ballet swirls to preach his love to Katisha.

Though the social commentary of Hot Mikado gets a little lost in translation, the musical is full of quips and fast-paced musical numbers. The play ends on a double wedding, the sheer jubilation of which can only be expressed through a concluding song involving the entire cast.

Hot Mikado runs from May 2nd to May 22nd, with evening performances Wednesday through Sunday and matinées on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are $40-$59, with $13 student rush tickets available. Performed by New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown.

Jordan Ahnquist (Pish-Tush), Michele A. DeLuca (Peep-Bo), Cheo Bourne (Nanki-Poo), and McCaela Donovan (Yum-Yum) (Andrew Brilliant)

Hollywood in Split Screen: The Longwood Players’ “City of Angels”

The Tony award winning play, City of Angels, transports its audience to the evocative world of 1940s Hollywood with a noir edge. From the beginning, as the halting baritone of the narrator’s voice introduces Stone (Curt Fennell) a cigarette smoking detective so moral that he is flat broke from refusing cases, the audience encounters a world of glamour, sardonic jabs, and euphemisms.

The musical is a play within a play. Novelist Stine (Todd Yard) is attempting to adapt his best-seller into a motion picture. He is struggling, however, with the producer’s insistence on changing the plot to better fit a Hollywood image. As he tells his story of re-writing each page as the narcissistic mogul Buddy Fidler (Kevin Cirone) breathes down his neck, the audience sees lines of dialogue from his daily life recycled into the screenplay and lines from his books repeated back to him from acquaintances. In this way, the two storylines blur into a continuous story in which each scene helps to explain previous occurrences and foreshadow future relationships.

Admittedly, the dual storylines are jarring at times. Occasionally, the stage is split between Stine working on one side and the characters acting on the other. Stine types, and the characters speak. His phone rings, and they pause. He rips the paper angrily from his machine, and they rewind their movements like robots until the perfect one-liner is finally delivered.

Center Front: Todd Yard (Stine). Left to Right: Mandy Mitchell (Mallory/Avril), Shonna McEachern (Bobbi/Gabby), Jennifer Honen Galea (Alaura/Carla), and Hilary Chadwick (Oolie/Donna)

Stine’s alter ego Stone is a suave and steely detective, constantly confronted by beautiful women, but just a little too moral to give in. While Stine is equally adroit, he cheats on his wife freely, writing conviction into Stone that he himself does not possess. It seems that Stine cannot write a character completely separate from himself, however. While Stone is quick to take a punch, like Stine he is a little too hesitant to punch back.

Though the screenplay Stine writes is based on a runaway girl and possible murder, clever banter between Stone and his secretary Oolie (Hilary Chadwick) quickly lightens the noir mood. Together, they mock Alaura, a cougar dressed in white, married to a 75-year-old man and fooling around with her step-son. As she enters the room with all the confidence of Jessica Rabbit, anxious to convince the detective for help with her plight, Stone remarks that the floor is the only thing that kept Alaura’s legs from going on for miles.

The music of City of Angels ranges from melancholy jazz solos from Stone’s lost love Bobbi (Shonna McEachern) to Jimmy Power’s (Christopher King) crooning love songs, backed by a half-drunk four-part chorus. Notable songs include Gabby and Oolie’s You Don’t Know About Women, a flippant duet sung to berate the womanizing Stine and Stone. The Tennis Song, an absurdly euphemistic duet with Alaura and Stone, with lyrics such as: “I may lack form and finesse, but I warm up in a jiff / It’s not exciting unless the competition is stiff.”

Center Front: Todd Yard (Stine). Center Top: Curt Fennell (Stone). Clockwise from Center Front: Mandy Mitchell (Mallory/Avril), Shonna McEachern (Bobbi/Gabby), Jennifer Honen Galea (Alaura/Carla), and Hilary Chadwick (Oolie/Donna)

In fact, City of Angels frequently embraces the absurd. The audience meets Luther Kingsley (Jeff Phillips), Alaura’s husband, trapped in an iron lung, scarcely able to talk. Agent Buddy Fidler chides Stine on the phone for his overly racialized plot as Filder receives a haircut. As Stine relents and the phone call ends, Fidler tells barber, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” As Jimmy Powers sings his exaggerated Stay With Me, his back-up singers pass a flask around and hold side conversations. Luther Kingsley’s “spiritual therapist” waves with arms and rings a tiny bell, advocating healing as a journey to the center of truth.

Despite the comedic release, City of Angels is ultimately the story of the novelist Stine, his tumultuous relationship with his wife and his internal struggle to “sell-out” to Hollywood in exchange for money and fame. He is not an especially likeable character: he cheats on his wife, he lies to her about cheating, he is egotistical about “lessening the integrity” of his novel, he sighs and complains without speaking up for himself. He is flawed.

Through the screenplay, however, we realize the person Stine wants to be: the rough-around the edges, secret hero Stone, still in love with the girl that got away. He is writing to become more like Stone. He is writing to find his way to redemption, to play the part of virtuous detective, willing to starve rather than accept a dishonest job. This realization redeems Stine.

And as Stine rushes onto the film set to halt production and save his vision of Stone, he is finally able to leave his type-writer and take action. He is finally able to play the part he had always intended for himself.

This final blurring of lines between the screenplay and reality proves the only truth Fidler conveys: “We are all on film, sometimes we just turn the camera on.”

The Longwood Players’ City of Angels, through May 1st, with evening performances Thursday through Saturday and a 2:00 pm matinée on Saturday May 1st @ the Central Square YMCA theater. Tickets: $16-$25 all dates.

Punk Fairy Tales: “Le Cabaret Grimm”

Idon’t think I was the only one to go into Jason Slavick & his Performance Lab‘s Le Cabaret Grimm expecting a hipster-oriented, modern, and (appropriately) campy take on cabaret and burlesque à la Amanda Palmer. Although there is a little punk to this “punk cabaret,” there’s just as much Disney to Slavick’s musical adaptation of the Brothers’ Grimm not so twisted fable The Lilting, Leaping Lark. More than one number echoes what one would expect to see in a plushly costumed and well amplified twenty-minute adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at an aquarium or amusement park amphitheater. Jaime Lee (who plays our heroine) has apparently spent some time at Disney World, and it shows. Censor out a few cuss words and give the female cast members a few XL t-shirts to wear and this wouldn’t be bad for the kids, provided you skip the opening acts (I’ll get to those later).

In an age where Kimya Dawson can write music for Sesame Street and Karen O can score Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are this sort of crossover isn’t all that surprising. A stroll through Urban Outfitter’s home goods section only shows that hipsters (and thus all things hip) tend to be the most nostalgic (at least for bygone pop culture) among us–some of it an affected nostalgia for LPs, tin lunch boxes, and all those other things they wish they didn’t miss, and some of it for the video fairy tale princesses and princes they were raised on. Conflate this with riotous rock music, third-wave feminism, and post-postmodern post-irony and you get Le Cabaret Grimm.

Becki Dennis, Haley Selmon, Ally Tully

The choreography is a little choppy, but not without talent. Rachel Bertone and Austin Auh (ensemble) stand out as elegant and precise dancers with resolute movement, especially when they flap around the stage as that lovely lilting lark. Haley Selmon, as our sultry MC, is absolutely captivating. With her confident demeanor, naughty costume, and protracted articulation, she’s the hostess who just makes you want to do what you’re told all night. In one of the show’s handful of deviations, she launches into Chanson de Veronique, a solo number that we think is going to relate some long-ago Parisian love affair of hers, but instead hilariously chains together every English appropriation of the French language you can think of and everything you remember from seventh grade French.

We get a slam poet Moon (yes, the one in the sky), a lovelorn aerobics teacher sun, beautiful masks by Eric Bornstein, and puppets by Tyler Brown. Ally Tully’s (as a punk princess, one of many her many roles) delivery of the number More, with a puppet Siamese twin, made me wish that CDs would be on sale in the lobby after the show. Nick Peciaro, as a sassy dressmaker stuck in a bad gig, puts to song all those things he can’t say with the upbeat, participatory number BFB (Big Fat Bitch). Cassandra Marsh’s music (very well played here by a small house band) genre hops between the conventions of modern Broadway and Disney on Ice, and smoothly skirts over to a few catchy “punk” gems.

Rachel Bertone, Becki Dennis, Austin Auh, Nick Peciaro

All this action follows an hour long opening act, which a significant portion of the audience skipped, only showing up after the intermission. I, apparently along with Louise Kennedy, was unaware of this, but not entirely disappointed. Pre-show MC/gender bender Johnny Blazes started with an elegant physical comedy routine embodying the honest, sincere humor of silent film and mimes and clowns from that bygone pre-ironic age. It’s amazing what you can do with a couple of scarfs and a soundtrack. The Boston Typewriter Orchestra was there to bring us back into the 21st century with a parody of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised; a poem to the plights of the digital age performed entirely on typewriters of various vintages. And then I saw transgender (I don’t know what) Ms. Lolita LaVamp perform an awkward little red riding hood striptease. Imagine a dance class of sixth grade girls whose recital includes exotic dancing between tap and ballet. Or perhaps you shouldn’t be imagining that.

If you go this weekend, you won’t see LaVamp or the typewriter band, but rather Mighty Tiny, “a journey into the depths of musical madness guided by six masked lunatics playing tunes dating back to the golden days of Tin Pan Alley,” and Dominique Immora, “a hula hooping, fire eating, burlesque dancing, stilt walking, poi spinning, whip cracking and aerial hoop artist.” Sounds like a pretty good show. The Performance Lab has brought us exactly what burlesque (ironic or not) should be; a big show for a little bit of money. A production that’s rough around its edges, but with shining talent throughout.

Le Cabaret Grimm through the 24th @ the BCA’s Plaza Theater. Tickets: $20-35–probably sold out by now, but I’m sure Performance Lab will be back.

Jaime Babs, Greg Pember