Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013

Blue Hawaii--A LOT of entertainment in 90 minutes

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Rockabilly Girl Productions rolls through this weekend with a breezy ecstatic fugue of a variety show with a tangy tropical feel as it presents the Blue Hawaii Spectacular at the Next Act Theatre space.  At 90 minutes including an intermission, the show shoots by with a crazy pace that mixes burlesque, physical comedy, hand puppet comedy, a juggler, hula hoops and more than a few other things. 


The house band for the show is the Revomatics. Prior the show they open with surf music medley that included a hypnotically slow rendition of Misirlou. They play throughout the show, which lends a really powerful '60s surf feel to things that plays on a lot of different moods--all of the upbeat in one way or another. 


The show opens with physical comic Michael Guthrie and Rockabilly Girl Alice Wilson-Stuart performing a comic bit with burlesque act Pouty Petals. The Guthrie-Petals physical comedy returns a couple of times over the course of the evening, continuing a recurring bit in a silent comedy that is accompanied by Revomatic scoring. 



Not everything in the show perfectly fits into the theme. Molotov Maybelle's classic burlesque act is as near as the show gets to traditional burlesque performance. She comes out a couple of times over the course of the show presenting exactly the sort of thing that most people picture when they think burlesque: simple and iconic. 



Much of the variety show comes to the stage entirely without dialogue or spoken word of any kind. This angles individual performances in interesting directions. Juggler Gypsy Geoff performs plate spinning with volunteers from he audience with the sound of the Revomatics in the background and an act that ostensibly has no direct correlation with Hawaii has a very strong tiki surf vibe about it. Later on he's juggling and balancing objects on objects on objects. He's done this stuff before, but here it's got that Revomatic backdrop and the overall feel of a playfully frenzied variety of entertainment to blend in with so it still feels new.



In the first half of the show, magician Sir Pinkerton does a fun routine involving swallowing a balloon nearly as long as be is tall and pulling it out as a long scarf. He follows that up with a whimsical little bit involving a fan and a few paper butterflies. Weirdly entertaining stuff that rushes onstage and off before one real has a chance to become accustomed to what's being presented. So much of the beauty of the show comes from  the brevity of the acts. And so much of the charm of The Blue Hawaii Spectacular comes from a really steady pacing to everything. 



Somewhere near the middle of things, Pinkerton does a musical comedy bit with Lumpy the Golem Boy . . . who shows up to do some of the only verbal humor on the show: a couple of jokes. It's fascinating that most of the words actually spoken onstage are spoken by a little blue golem puppet. The Rockabilly Girl Alice Wilson-Stuart also has a few very, very brief comic lines at the beginning and the end of the show. Lumpy seems really comfortable onstage in this sort of a venue. In this and a few other appearances, Lumpy is making a pretty strong case for regular appearances at all kinds of functions. He's a very charismatic piece of fabric. 



Milwaukee-based Francesca Alfresca has a couple of remarkably precise burlesque performances in the show. Her first appearance on the evening involves a pair of very, very large feather fans. She wields them like dazzling, light feathery walls that rotate gracefully around her body. Later on she's out again for something equally impressive. 


And of course, what would a Hawaiian-themed variety show be without classic Hula dancers? Angel Cuevas and Malia Lani Chow lend an air of authenticity to the evening with a classic grass skirt hula . . . later on they come out a glittery pop variation on classic hula. 



Burlesque act Tomahawk Tassels follows their initial classy hula performance with a really stylish  hula striptease that has a striking kind of perfection to it. There's real symmetry and poise to Tassels' work that asserts an impressively strong attitude about itself. In the second half, she's dancing in a stylized Elvis outfit to "Teddy Bear" next to Michael Guthrie in a big teddy bear outfit. It's kind of remarkable what Tassels is able to do with the bit . . . take the trademark Vegas Elvis jumpsuit look and bend it around something strong, assertive and feminine and make it look strikingly good. A fun departure from the Hawaiian mood from her there. 



For the most part, the acts were really well-coordinated with the theme, though. Burlesquer Pouty Petals' tease has an adorably physical comedy act that fits the tiki surf mood quite well. She dances to the tune of "Good Vibrations," on a surfboard as boylesque act Vince V. Vince dances playfully along in a man-sized shark puppet chewing away at bits of her costuming. The first bit comes off and she's wearing a black top with the word "help" written on it in big white letters. Fun stuff. 


It's the details in between the details that help add to the atmosphere. This is a show paced so quickly that acts aren't even announced. They simply appear onstage, do their thing and then leave. In between moments, a stagehand dressed as an early '60s housewife walks around with a laundry basket picking up discarded bits of clothing from the burlesque acts. Quite cute. 



Vince V. Vince comes out later with a very tight precision in an act that involves him coming onstage as a kinky airline pilot and exiting in something far more skimpy and tropical. Much like Tassels, there's a real strength to the attitude in Vince's performance that works really well with his physical presence. 



Vince only has one solo act on the program. Also with only one appearance on the evening is the twin acrobatic burlesque act Gravity Plays Favorites. Two very, very lithe women amorously do very agile tricks on a pole. At first they're clearly presenting a very simple narrative, but before long things get kind of sensual and abstract and after a while it's kind of easy to forget that it's a couple of people up there. Like watching ballet or any decent dance, you're so caught up in the form and motion that you kind of lose  track of the dancers. But there's such an irresistible playfulness about it that it never veers away from being fun. 



Also making an appearance in the second half only is Avona Hoop. She comes out in kind of a stylized spy mood . . . swinging around a rope with two stylishly weighted ends. She's offstage briefly into a  simple quick change and she's back out with hula hoops. . .and she's good. A few quick changes. A few dances with hoops. Two simple circles embrace each other in a tattoo on her upper back suggesting a deep love of all things circular. The rings spin around her in a dizzily enjoyable performance that occasionally feels like kind of a surreal intersection between geometry and physics. 


Hoops, comic puppetry, burlesque, juggling, acrobatics and keep in mind all of this happens over the course of 90 minutes including a really comfortably-lengthed intermission . . . it's a really tight package of entertainment with a lot to offer. Here's hoping it's a success for Rockabilly Girl. Judging from this, they put on a really good show. 


There's one more performance of The Blue Hawaii Spectacular tonight at 7:30 pm at the Next Act Theatre on 255 South Water Street. For ticket reservations, visit Brown Paper Tickets. 


Earlier on today, Next Act will be home to the Blue Hawaii Party--a gathering featuring live music, a car show, food and the Miss Blue Hawaii Contest. The party starts at 2pm.  


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