“Welcome to the strangest comic relief available without prescription” begins our Host, Trav S.D. in full Captain Spaulding* regalia- pith helmet, painted mustache and all. Backed by the cast on this evening’s roster, the performer leads a rousing rendition of his signature song (and dance) “I Feel Great.” The number is uncomplicated, goofy fun and so evocative of the era, I was surprised to learn he’d written it.
From the 1880s until the early 1930s vaudeville thrived in the U.S. and Canada. Made up of separate, unrelated acts, entertainment bills might include musicians, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, impersonators, acrobats, illustrated songs, jugglers, skits, lecturing celebrities, ventriloquists, minstrels, movies…
Trav S.D., creator of Travesties 2012, who has made the genre his life’s work, defines it as “A heterogeneous concatenation of discrete, self-contained entertainment units, encompassing the widest possible variety of performance disciplines.” Spoken like a true vaudevillian.
Like any show of its nature, some of this offering is effervescent highjinks and some falls flat. The preponderance is entertaining. These are acts you will never see elsewhere. Their combination is a hoot. Highlights below.
A.J. Silver, “the new cowboy star of the old west,” is an Italian American from the Bronx, “a spaghetti western.” Decked out as a hybrid rodeo wrangler, Silver does rope tricks. I mean the rope obeys him! A circling loop starts big enough to jump through, slowly grows smaller without stopping, undulates over his shoulder like a creature, and enlarges again, at one point to about a 12’ circumference. Under stage lights in this intimate theater, one sees both the lasso and its visual echo. Corralling an audience volunteer, the personable Silver then demonstrates his facility with a bullwhip striking 2” of looped colored paper off a 10” stick. The game “assistant” even holds one in his mouth. Crack!
Suggesting a method to hold the attention of a potential bar pick-up, Noah Diamond flawlessly performs a Danny Kaye-like list song including all 192 member states of the United Nations. Later, he ably leads the cast in “The Crime of the Rhyme.” The skit, written by Trav S.D., is pitch-perfect vaudeville with deadpanned, limerick dialogue, sort of an office-based Dr. Seuss. Diamond delivers in spades. He has fine comic timing and evinces just the right I take this seriously expressions. (In this same sketch, C.L. Weatherstone has a wonderful comic turn as the odd man out.)
Mentalist Rory Raven requests three audience members to respectively write a name, a place, and a date on slips of paper, folded, and sealed in envelopes. Genially coaxing volunteers to visualize their choices, he duplicates all three on a pad of paper. Would that the thespian was given more time to show us his obvious skills. His easy, confident manner had us. Loved the saddle shoes.
One might call Danny Darkly a gothic, gay monologist. The actor dramatizes “Portly Patton, Bear Skinner,” a grotesque tale which features Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, fatty foods, gay summer camp, a boy who doesn’t fit in, and grisly, psychotic revenge. The word “bear” refers not to the genus of Smokey, but rather “macho homos with beards and bellies.” Darkly is good. Unless you’re a fan of Freddy Kruger** and Silence of the Lambs, he will make you wince. Like any good horror story, however, this one needs an emphatic ending—currently absent. Costume and make-up are completely artful.
In Centennial Tribute to 1912’s Passing Show, the Shubert’s response to the Ziegfeld Follies, Meghan “Big Red” Murphy sings “Carolina” and “The Ragtime Jockey Man.” The vocalist is an extremely attractive, large-boned redhead dressed in scarlet, holding a coordinating ostrich fan. La Belle Poitrine from Patrick Dennis’s “Little Me” comes to mind. Treatment of material is excellent and Murphy has a lovely voice, but she makes no use of her God given gifts-i.e. she stands stock still and sizzle-less, not a single hip sway or gesture. What could be charmingly infectious is thus just pleasant.
The evening ends with Trav S.D.’s “New York is a Patriotic Town,” accompanied by the host on guitar and Sarah Malinda Engelke on banjo. Built around the vocals and vivacious tap dancing of Alexander McDonald (also the choreographer), the number is an eager-to-please, flag-waving chuckle, again accurate to the genre.
Mrs. Rittenhouse: Captain, this leaves me speechless.
Capt. Spaulding: Well, see that you remain that way.
From “Animal Crackers”
* Groucho Marx’s character in the film “Animal Crackers”
** from “The Nightmare on Elm Street” film series
The New York Musical Theater Festival and The American Vaudeville Theater present
Travesties of 2012
Original sketches, songs, host and booker: Trav S.D.
Featuring, on this night (the cast changes):
Sarah Malinda Engelke (accompanist) core cast: Alexander McDonald, Noah Diamond,
Isaiah Tanenbaum, Shashana Newman, C.L. Weatherstone,
A.J. Silver, Rory Raven, Jenny Lee Mitchell, Glenn Heroy, Dennis Buck (accompanist)
Dandy Darkly, Meghan “Big Red” Murphy, Amazing Amy Alexander McDonald
Irregularly through July 28, 2012
For more on current and historical vaudeville go to Travalanche
For a thoroughly entertaining history of vaudeville, read Travis’s book No Applause-Just Throw Money.
For Trav S.D.–Jim Moore
For Meghan—Mystic Images Photography
For Dandy Darkly—Bobby Miller
Director John Hurley
Musical Director—Sarah Malinda Engelke
The 45th Street Theater
354 West 45th Street at Ninth Avenue
347-213-3511 or www.nymf.org
Through July 28