Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bedlam Explosivo Variety Hour (review)

Spoiler ahoy!

The term "variety hour"feels retro in this day and age.  It used to indicate something quite fun, a collection of different acts and entertainments, part of a tradition going back to Vaudeville and the Victorian Music Hall and before.

The Bedlam Explosivo Variety Hour at ZJU in North Hollywood recreates this idea.  Which is not to say it feels anything like an antique.  No, this remains modern, remains ZJU which is to say it has equal doses of the macabre and edginess with more than a few dashes of dark(ish) humor plus a bit of gender-bending here and there.

Photo: Sebastian Munoz
When I went to see it, a friend who was helping with the house told me I looked like I could use a night of relaxation and fun.  She said this show was for me.  Well, she was right!

Live music accompanied several musical numbers, which naturally enough included more than a few scantilly clad performers.  Most (but not all) of them female.  Dance and singing made up a goodly percent of what we saw--much of it with a twist!  A translation gone horribly wrong from Carmen for example.  An all male striptease involving monks, a long running gag from Monty Python and music from the group Genesis for another.  We also got a lovely striptease number done to classic opera (courtesy of the lovely Vivi Varon)!

Intercut amid all this included a series of magic acts, not in a classical style (at least no top hats, no bunnies, no beautiful assistant looking something like a Vegas Chorus girl) but in the more modern, ironic way we've grown used to.  Less Kreskin, more Penn and Teller.  With a few bits of Alice Cooper maybe.  Bald and bearded Scott Michael did the prestidigitational honors, and kudos to him. (BTW some might find his act a tad hardcore.  I'll admit to squirming a bit.)
Photo: Sebastian Munoz

Meanwhile what other acts made us laugh, and smile and sometimes nearly dance in our seats (although maybe that was just me...)?

A slightly mad gymnastics routine by a pretty-much-clothed Ian Heath. (Quick note--this guy seems born to play The Joker, just sayin')

Elif Savas showing off a really fine vocal range along with a very fine gift for comedic timing.  This is no small thing, since making some of her "bits" work isn't anywhere near as easy as it seems.  She and Matt Hislope also did a hilarious bit about a plumber and the tools of his trade.  I really cannot describe this, but note you should see it for yourself.  Really. 

Michael Guthrie's singing, who gives us not only the power of a good strong voice but the skill to let us hear, understand and (important) feel the words!

Photo: Sebastian Munoz
Jennifer Chun--the very first performer we see--acting by playing the cello (for real). 

Allison Fogarty doing the same while playing the flute, maintaining a specific character throughout (this is good stuff).

Ellen Runkle and Emily Craig who shone in a simple little skit that left me snickering and who throughout created a series of small, but vivid characters in one bit or sketch after another.

Mostly though I was truly impressed with Sebastian Munoz, a director I've followed now for several years and seen his skills with choosing talent and shepherding good performances (and in this work, working out humor that works) continue to grow.  I recommend this show highly for sixty minutes of fun!

The Bedlam Explosivo Variety Hour plays Saturdays at 8:30pm through March 28, 2015 at ZJU 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo Sign) North Hollywood CA 91601. Tix are $15.  You can make reservations by calling (818) 202-4129 of visiting zombiejoes.tix.com.

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