Monday, December 3, 2012

A Down & Dirty Christmas (review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Last summer Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre hosted Vanessa Cate's Down & Dirty Cabaret, which proved very much a success!

Now, until the night of the Winter Solstice (when the Mayans supposedly said the world will end--no they didn't and how would they know anyway?) Fridays will see a sequel to the original--in this case, A Down & Dirty Christmas!  Unlike the earlier show, this one features more of an actual plot and if anything manages to rise to the surreal heights for which ZJU has become known!  Case in point--a character who is not only a spirit guide, but promiscuous, not only having a penchant for dressing up, but is in fact a talking snail.  With a speech impediment.

I rest my case.

Essentially the whole thing is a take on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but with lots of other yuletide classics tossed in--plus lots of pretty women in lingerie.  Madame Director (Vanessa Cate) is ushering in the holiday season with lots of absinthe and a snarky attitude.  In contrast we see the bubbly joy of her Assistant (Natalie Hyde, who also choreographed), who manages to nag her beloved Madame Director into watching Its A Wonderful Life.  The two, alas, disagree.  When the Madame reaches the theatre to find her cast of beautiful, scantily clad singer/dancers dancing a la Charlie Brown's Christmas Special, she goes all Scrooge on them.  She even insults her devoted, adorable Assistant!

From there it becomes a spiritual quest for Madame to discover what she's lost, complete with trips back to the past and forward to the future.  Much of it startlingly original!  I mean, where else are you going to see a Burlesque routine done to "Carol of the Bells"?  (okay that link isn't quite right, you might want to use this one instead).  The most disturbing one was "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus," and it had absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics.  No, it was the chorus girls. Everyone one them looking like terrified survivors of brain surgery.  Dancing and smiling.  Smiling and dancing.

I loved it.

Photo Credit:  Willy Romano-Pugh
Not just the number, the whole show!  Do I have anything negative to say?  Well, some of the singers aren't the strongest, but none of them reach the level of bad. 

And one line didn't quite work.  When Madame sings "Baby Its Cold Outside" to her Assistant, noting how maybe its snowing, the latter says "We're in California."  Okay, I'm nitpicking but it does snow in this state.  But it doesn't in Los Angeles.

Hey, I said I was nitpicking, didn't I?

The whole cast did a great job, the moment the lights came up on all these girls in lingerie singing "Oh Holy Night" which may be the most sincere and straightforward of all Christmas Carols.  They did it straight, and very nice.  And before too long they started dancing while making us laugh.  Lets face it, all snarky and sarcastic about the Holidays is easy.  Sincerity without straying into maudlin is frankly harder.  But how about combining the snark and the sincerity without losing either one?  Ah, that makes for a better accomplishment still.

Most of the cast I'd seen before, in shows ranging from Not With Monsters to The Fainting Couch and Hamlet plus of course the previous Down & Dirty.  Leaving the theatre, I found myself hoping for another edition, for the summer perhaps?

Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group will present A Down & Dirty Christmas at 11pm on Fridays until December 21, 2012.  You can find the show at 4850 Lankershim Blvd.  Phone number (818) 202-4120.

All photo credits to Vanessa Cate save where otherwise noted.

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