By Richard Ades, The Other Paper
The best thing about Burlesque de Voyage, Shadowbox Live’s latest “Stage 2” production, is that it’s being presented two nights a week. Previous shows were offered only on Wednesdays, limiting their potential audiences.
The second-best thing is that Burlesque de Voyage earns its name. The main portion of the show consists of comic skits and raunchy dance routines inspired by classic burlesque numbers. These are funny and/or sexy, and the cast performs them beautifully.
The worst thing about the show is that the burlesque numbers are preceded and followed by original dialogue. As entertaining as the burlesque numbers are, that’s how tedious the surrounding segments are.
During the 45-minute first act, we meet the troupe’s members via terse conversations that take place while they’re switching venues. In the process, we learn that Lilly (Leah Havilland) is taking off for a better gig and that Beverly (Nikki Fagin) is breaking up with her boyfriend, Craig (Robbie Nance).
The problem is, we don’t care because we haven’t had a chance to get to know these people. And to the extent we have gotten to know them, they don’t seem nice enough to merit our attention. They snipe and snarl at each other and are generally much less classy than the vaudeville material they’re performing.
Act 1’s main strength is that the snippets of dialogue are punctuated with covers of rock tunes—such as Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”—that are meant to explain the singers’ motivations. This being Shadowbox, they’re performed well, but they’re not enough to make up for the skimpy, one-note characterizations.
The only consolation is that Act 1 soon gives way to Act 2, and that’s when the fun really starts.
The comedy routines include Miracle Cures, introduced by comics Tim and Harvey (Jimmy Mak and David Whitehouse) and featuring Nance as a doctor and Amy Lay as his delicious nurse. Headliner Busty (Julie Klein) adds her Mae West-type persona to a later routine, Broken Arms Hotel, in addition to providing between-scenes commentary.
Musical numbers include the vintage “If I Can’t Sell It,” sung, with double entendres intact, by Katy Psenicka. Dance numbers include the slinky “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” and the shocking “Sweet Dreams,” featuring Stev Guyer as a Victorian malefactor named Jack.
Directed by Guyer, all of these homages are performed in the style and spirit of burlesque, which makes them a treat.
Then, just as we’ve gotten the bad taste of Act 1 cleansed from our palates, the show returns to the Lilly, Beverly and Craig melodramas. Problem is, we still don’t care. The only consolation is that the wrap-up is fairly brief.
Burlesque de Voyage is a bold experiment, but the opening and closing are too sketchy to complement the good stuff in the middle. To borrow a comparison from the burlesque era, it’s like a box of Cracker Jack that’s filled with stale candy and a really big, nifty prize.