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.
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.
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.