Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Down & Dirty (review)

Context, so they say, is everything.  With that in mind may I please offer two pieces of context to this review?  First, Zombie Joe's Underground Theater presented a cabaret last summer in which a friend of mine performed.  Second, this summer's caberet-esque musical revue includes an actress I praised in my earlier review of Hamlet at the same theatre.  Her name?  Vanessa Cate.  In a fun twist lies at the heart of Down & Dirty, she not only portrays the director of the show, she actually did direct it!

Last year's cabaret essentially recreated the stage acts from the musical Cabaret.  All well and good and plenty of fun.

This year ZJU gives us something more tasty.  More rich.  It even harkens to one of my favorite Broadway musicals, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  We see and partake of more than just a series of musical numbers.  The cast have their own dramas going on, so that in effect the backstage angst, inter-cast rivalries and stories spill out in front of the audience.  Starting with the MC having gone missing as the proverbial curtain rises.  How that plays out proves quite fun and I won't spoil it for you.

Musical numbers do include three from Cabaret but also a couple from Chicago including a very neatly re-imagined "Cell Block Tango."  The space used remains small and the use of its black box works very well.  Likewise the various numbers are all good, many of them startling, one (a striptease) actually disturbing in a way that shouldn't be funny yet somehow was.  The final number, likewise, provoked laughs--although exactly why I'm still not sure.

This last is not a criticism.  Not at all.  I like to be intrigued.

Down & Dirty certainly achieved that.  In fact that leads to very nearly my only real criticism of the production.  And it is a subtle one.  Several times in the show I felt genuinely moved by the performers, especially the MC (Timothy Alonzo).  One sensed some history behind his monologues, as well as an attitude you might describe as melancholy joi de vivre.  Fatalism with a smile, and an entrance.  Likewise genuine rivalry between other cast members played out, such as a certain arabesque striptease quite creative in set up and funny in punchline.  But the story about Madame Director (Vanessa Cate) and her assistant (Natalie Hyde) gave us hints without quite becoming fully real.  Not quite.  But two possibilities immediately come to mind as to why.  Offering them may be presumptuous, but here they be anyway.

I attended the premiere and maybe there were a few opening night jitters.  Another, not mutually exclusive possibility, is that these two by necessity lacked as much precise direction as the rest of the cast.  Directing oneself--not an easy task!

But even saying that much almost makes too much of it.  The whole production remains very fun, well worth the price of a ticket.  I attended at the tail-end of a mild health problem and frankly didn't expect to have nearly so good a time!  Honestly, I hoped to like it, but what appeared before me exceeded expectations.  Returning to context for a moment, recall that I like the dark and the witty, the erotic and biting and (yes, I'll use this word) challenging.

I might even take my friend who was in last year's show.  She seemed interested, even when I said Down & Dirty was better than her own (quite fun) revue.

The rest of the cast are Joanna Bartling, Paige O'Malley, Gracy Ramirez, Annalee Scott (who also did vocal directions--the results quite impressive), Natalie Stevie, Jade Waters-Burch and Corey Zicari.  All of the above spend most of the show (or at least a significant part of it) in lacy women's underwear.  Including Mr. Alonzo.  He doesn't quite have the legs for it but he carries it off--actually the more impressive accomplishment.

Down & Dirty (Miss Vanessa Cate's Dark & Sexy Neo-Retro Cabaret) plays August 4 through September 15 unless it gets extended (the premiere was almost standing room only, so that remains possible), Saturdays at 11pm.  The delightful show lasts approximately one hour, with tickets $15 each.  Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group is at 4850 Lankershim Boulevard (a little south of the NoHo sign).  Box office is (818) 202-4120.

1 comment:

Zombie Joe said...

Miss Vanessa Cate's dark and sexy, neo-retro cabaret spectacular HAS EXTENDED to SEPTEMBER 29th!

See these other exciting shows at ZJU Theater in 2012:
- BLOOD of MACBETH - Aug 24 to Sep 28
- DOWN & DIRTY - Aug 4 to Sep 29
- THE PARA ABNORMALS - Aug 25 to Sep 29