By Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
Shadowbox Live’s dazzling new show, Burlesque de Voyage, takes the company’s familiar ingredients and transforms them into an elegantly structured new piece that works on level after level.
The troupe has always been good at comedy, music, and acting, but not always so well able to fit those disparate pieces together into a coherent whole. Burlesque de Voyage not only ably showcases different performers and talents, but seamlessly blends together different elements into a work that enhances the contrasts between those differences rather than simply throwing them together and hoping for the best.
The two-act original show, produced and directed by Stev Guyer and written by Jimmy Mak, follows a contemporary burlesque troupe as they arrive in a new city, spend a week rehearsing, put on their show, and prepare to leave.
The first act watches the group as they get ready: choreographing and rehearsing dances, auditioning a new member when another suddenly deserts them, and dealing with personal drama. The second act focuses on the show itself, with brief interludes backstage and a satisfying resolution as the cast packs up.
The burlesque numbers are loving, spot-on tributes to the days of baggy-panted comedians and scantily clad women. Mak and David Whitehouse have brilliant timing and great chemistry as they mug their way through jokes and routines so old they’re new again, and Amy Lay is rib-tickling as the requisite naughty nurse. Julie Klein channels Mae West as the group’s producer and emcee, Busty Slingshot, and Katy Psenicka is wryly deadpan with the double entendres in If I Can’t Sell It.
Psenicka’s choreography also shines in the second-act dance numbers, including a chic and creepy version of Sweet Dreams and a sultry The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.
If the second act pays off with belly laughs and show-stoppers, the first act has its own, more subtle power. Using an eclectic and effective selection of songs – including Nikki Fagin’s wrenching version of Voices Carry, J.T. Walker III’s dynamic take on Fame, and Leah Haviland’s brash interpretation of Big Time – the show provides a look into the inner lives of characters otherwise sketched out in a few lines of dialogue.
This means that many of the characters are seen from three angles: as a singer or dancer or comedian – or all three – in the show-within-the-show; as a member of this high-pressure traveling community; and as an individual expressing his or her thoughts in emotionally laden song.
The stage – and often the floor of the theatre, where audience members sit at tables – is constantly alive with action, with rehearsals or set-ups or little interactions going on while the spotlight is on one player or another.
The show takes Shadowbox Live in a new direction, one that proves richly rewarding for the audience.