trodding the boards
theatre & the arts
Volume 21/Issue 1/2003

By Brian Sands

Oh La La–Cabaret as Art 
Bianca’s Remote Out Of Control
at Le Chat Noir

On a recent Saturday night at Le Chat Noir, a packed house waited 25 minutes for the show to begin. Perhaps that should come as no surprise when drag queens are involved but who’d’ve thunked that the audience would be majority straight?

Yet this is the phenomenon known as Bianca del Rio, the alter ego of Roy Haylock, who’s graced the cover of Gambit and the pages of The New York TimesTravel section. Can celebrity endorsements be far behind?

Bianca Del Rio stars in Bianca’s Remote Out Of Control

Having seen Bianca tame the crowds at drag bingo, hold court at the W’s Sunday brunch and tyrannize Gong Show contestants and audiences alike with a deliciously caustic wit that makes her appear to be the love child of Joan Rivers and Don Rickles, I came to Remote Out of Control wondering if she could sustain an entire scripted evening on her own. Boy, can she!

Conceived by Haylock and written by him, Kevin Charpentier and Charlotte Lang with music by Harry Mayronne, Jr., Remote, not unlike Bianca/Roy, is a bifurcated evening. The first part features a nine year old Bianca well on her way to becoming a drama queen who is in endless negotiation with her mother (heard but not seen) as to how much television she can watch.

As TV theme songs whiz by, Bianca slips in and out of character(s) while slicing through the fourth wall with surgical skill. Carol Burnett and Wonder Woman appear. Cher peels off layers of Bob Mackie inspired outfits (Bravo to the House of Haylock’s costumes) while Bianca has the audience count how many "um"s the Diva utters. Laughs come so swiftly that I strain to recall a riff on how TV maids, like Maude’s Florida, wind up with their own series.

Ad libs are batted out into the audience–or are they in the script, so spontaneously side-splitting as they seem? In a dizzyingly surreal touch, Momma’s voice turns into a pissy queen’s. And through it all, Bianca/Roy reminds us not to take it too seriously. After all "what do we expect for twenty-seven dollars?" This is meta-comedy at its best.

Yet beyond the humor, Remote captures the essence of a child to whom TV and its larger-than-life characters are everything. Conjuring up the pre-VCR days when only three networks ruled, Remote’s first part makes palpable the desire I well remember not to miss a single show lest you never have an opportunity to see it again. That Remote can juggle such archetypical themes as the desire for fame and the battle between parent and child with humor that is breathtaking in its depth and breadth is a stunning achievement that transcends mere drag/performance art/comedy/entertainment/cabaret to become Art, as pretentious as that may sound.

That said, Remote’s second part is a bit of a disappointment. A conceit that little Bianca is at auditions for The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy allows big Bianca/Roy to parade a krewe’s worth of stars across the stage, from Shirley Temple to Carmen Miranda with Marilyn, Joan, Liza and Bette (Davis, not Midler) in between.

Don’t get me wrong. Aided by Clint De La Passe’s wig designs, Haylock’s impersonations are dead on, down to the last flick of the wrist and catch in the throat. The humor is hysterical and the House of Haylock’s variations on Dorothy’s dress are brilliant creations even when seen for only a minute or two. (I loved Mae West’s ruby red reticule.)

But this section is more of a traditional, albeit a very high level, drag performance lacking the visceral resonance of the first part. Still, it’s a pleasure to see Haylock leaving lip-synching behind to do an array of live voices, particularly a singing Cher.

With Remote Out of Control, Bianca/Roy sets the artistic bar pretty high for her/himself. I look forward with eager anticipation to seeing what further heights s/he shall scale.

La Revue
at the Fleur de Lis Theatre

Sure La Revue, the new Parisianstyle burlesque on Bourbon Street, is geared towards Straight men. But if Straights can be seduced by Bianca Del Rio, why not queers by semi-clad women?

For Lesbians, the appeal of eight attractive, bare-breasted women is obvious, I suppose. For Gay men? Well, since I’ve already used up my monthly quota of dubbing things Art, let’s just say it’s Fun.

In sixteen numbers split into two acts, the women lip-synch, shimmy, charm snakes, twirl umbrellas, even, in one number, don toe shoes and go up en pointe. From the "Hey, Big Spender" opening to the Mardi Gras-themed finale with stops along the way for robots & lasers, Josephine Baker-inspired bananas and a kicky Charleston, each vignette creates its own little world.

While the evening could benefit from having a few less numbers, particularly some of the solo turns, directors Chloe and Robert Watters keep the show moving at a fairly lively pace. More classy than trashy, there’s nothing sordid about the presentations; heck, you could probably take Grandma to see this!

Taking up residence in an attractively appointed new theater, the first on Bourbon Street since the French Opera House burned in 1919, La Revue with its generally imaginative choreography by Genevieve Cleary actually has a genuine artistic integrity about it. (Oops, there I go again with my Artsy Fartsy pontifications. Well, tough.)

As for the performers, they are a game troupe of talented dancers. While some seem a bit mannequin-y ("Slap that smile on your face!"), others radiate a fetching exuberance. With no cast list to identify the ladies by name, stand-outs included the lead in "Fever", the witch doctress in "Lime in the Coconut", "Santa Baby", both the proper and the wild Japanese "Shush-ers" and all three danseuses in the "Nymphomaniac Ballet." Vocalist Carrie Arthurs sings standards before the show and during intermission with accomplished ease.

With the eight beauties changing outfits as quickly and as often as Bianca, perhaps some day Miss Del Rio shall join them for an evening of "Boobs and Barbs." Nah, not Arty enough.

The Black & White Blues at Le Chat Noir

Ricky Graham and Harry Mayronne, Jr.’s The Black & White Blues is a delightful evening that limns the hopes, challenges, pleasures and frustrations that those who serve us in fine dining establishments face on a daily basis.

Invoking the patron saint of waiters, Flo from TV’s Alice, Blues takes the form of a new kid on the job’s learning curve from mastering waiter lingo to deciding she’s gonna stay. Covering a range of food-related topics from whiny customers to celebrity cooks, along the way we also meet a fairy god-waitress and a drugged-out chef.

Directed by Graham and Heidi P. Junius, Blues is consistently fast-paced and pizzazz-y; in fact, the one ballad, "Waiting Around", is a nice change of tempo. In Le Chat Noir’s cabaret setting, one can imagine that this is what revues of the 1950s/60s in New York, like Julius Monk’s Upstairs at the Downstairs, were like.

If Graham doesn’t have the stiletto sharp wit one associates with the best of such entertainments, he gives each of the four servers their own credible personality. Likewise, Mayronne is no Richard Rogers or Frederick Loewe; his melodies tend to sound the same after a while. Yet his is certainly a solid musicianship which with Graham’s intricately rhymed lyrics produce songs several notches above what passes for show tunes on Broadway these days.

(clockwise from top) Russell Hodgkinson, Christopher Wecklein, Jessie Terrebonne & Jorinda Junius in The Black & White Blues

I could have done without those segments in which Blues trades in stereotypes, not because they weren’t necessarily truthful but because they just weren’t funny. In fact, about the only thing that trips up the extremely talented cast are accents outside of the tri-parish region. Much better was a parade of nightmare dishes like a mushroom-capped snow pea who sings, with a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan, "I am the very model of a very trendy vegetable."

I hate to single out any one member of the protean ensemble but kudos to adorable Jessie Terrebone as the newcomer who more than holds her own with such established pros as Russell Hodgkinson, Jorinda Junius and Christopher Wecklein. Terrebone is currently a junior at Loyola; I suspect that with diploma in hand she’ll take NYC by storm.

With Cecile Casey Covert’s spot-on costumes ranging from a saucy shrimp to a crepe suzette, and H. Junius’ inventive choreography overcoming the small stage, Black & White Blues serves up a tasty meal.

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