A few years ago, when One Eyed Jacks was the Shim Sham Club, the shimmering Shim Shamettes and later the Southern JezeBelles materialized every so often with a new scantily clad revue. Both troupes won us over with their humor, imagination and visual nuttiness. You were more likely to see a dancing starfish in an underwater ballet than twirling pasties.
Drummer Ronnie Magri served as the bandleader for the Shim Shamettes, and in the current show, the burlesquers once again shake to Magri and his Bourbon Shakers -- a six-piece ensemble lined up across the back of the stage.
Before I discuss this saucey little presentation, let me make a disclaimer: One of the reasons that I don't review opera is that I don't trust myself to notice if the diva lacks her usual mastery in a famous passage. By the same token, when it comes to 'ecdysiastics' (that's what Gypsy Rose Lee's called her art form), I can't claim to have a trained eye. But -- jumping over the fine points of exotic dancing -- let me say that all the danseuses are lithe and lovely and take pleasure in their daring invitations to that often-condemned phenomenon: the male gaze. In short, they keep the fun in the game.
The dancers' nicknames pretty much describe their acts. We have Cassandra Sexton; 'the Harem Slave Girl'; Leila, 'the Parisian Streetwalker'; Anais D'Jolie, 'the Egyptian Princess'; and Stormy, 'the Southern Belle.'
This last lovely woman ended up briefly in my lap as part of her routine and whispered in my ear that she had had trouble getting her dress off. Her confession bore out my hunch that the burlesque performer's worst moment of anxiety comes when some piece of clothing that is supposed to fall off refuses to go. Obviously, when all eyes are on you, undressing gracefully can be quite a challenge.
One performer, at least, doesn't take the chance. Soulful Marcy Von Hesseling provides a melodic change of pace with her songs. The master of the ceremonies is a tuxedo-clad comic named Jolly Johnny Jones -- aka Sean Patterson. Rather than try to show how irritatingly bad a burlesque comedian can be (which is a standard shtick in this sort of show), Patterson plays the emcee role straight on, with only the occasional self-deprecating wink. He cracks jokes and moves things along deftly.
Here's a tip of the hat to producer/director Rick Delaup and choreographer Dollie Rivas for this risque diversion.
Meanwhile, things are more risky than risque over at the Slidell Little Theatre, with the musical fable Once on This Island (by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty). The risks have to do with social inequality -- for the mythical island in question suffers from a typical Third World hierarchy. The impoverished many are ruled by -- and for the benefit of -- the rich few.
Once on This Island tells the story of a poor little peasant girl named Ti Moune (Abigail Gardner). Ti Moune survives a flood that kills her parents, and is adopted by a peasant couple named Tonton Julian (Fred Martinez) and Mama (Jennifer Baptiste).
The gods on this island -- Agwe (Bryan Reilly), Asaka (Joan Spraggins), Ersulie (Elizabeth Page) and Papa Ge (Paul Gardner) take an interest in Ti Moune and her fate.
Little girl Ti Moune soon grows into young lady Ti Moune (Hannah Guillory). She feels certain that she is destined to marry a rich young man from the other side of the island. Ti Moune rescues one of these Prince Charmings (Casey Kelly) from his wrecked car. She nurses him back to health, and falls in love with him.
The young man -- whose name is Daniel -- returns to his mansion on the other side of the island. Ti Moune follows him. Daniel soon falls in love with her. But, his father forbids him to marry Ti Moune.
Jilted Ti Moune, egged on by the God of Death, attempts to murder Daniel. But, at the last minute, she can't bear to shed his blood. In the end, Ti Moune dies and is turned into a tree by the goddess of the earth. Under Polly Hudgins direction, Once on This Island is a rousing community theater production, with all the heart that implies. There is some gutsy singing (by Jennifer Baptiste and the young Hannah Guillory, among others) and there is some spirited dancing. But, to enjoy the show, you've got to be open to the particular charms of a "community theater" experience.