The gang at Concrete Vertigo Productions have the burlesque down, they just need to concentrate more on delivering the story.
[pullquote]A fun hybrid theatrical experience that helps elevates the art of burlesque, Concrete Vertigo has proven, without a doubt, they can do the sexy. They still need to prove they can deliver on story.[/pullquote]Much like last year’s superior Grimm Girls, this young company is attempting to take the art of burlesque and up the ante with a mash-up of theatre and striptease. In this latest production, Vixens of Wonderland, writer Mike Kovac takes the somewhat familiar tale of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and serves up its familiar characters and storyline with a slightly fractured vision and a sexy layer on top.
Like Grimm Girls though there are still problems, particularly when you compare the pacing between the highs of the energetic and visually interesting burlesque numbers and the lows of its story. Where things kick into high gear when someone is about to take their clothes off, to be successful in this theatrical hybrid, story must be as equally captivating. Some of the non-burlesque scenes drag on far too long, and this group still needs a good dramaturg to help them focus. With stories like Alice familiar to audiences it isn’t always necessary to tell it in great detail; let’s not kid ourselves, in this type of show we’re really looking for them to be short bridges to the next striptease.
Part of Kovac’s script problems come from the interjection of pop culture references that are stale including gays in the military, Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Even the whipping of the boys in which they discover that they really do like it is a little tired. Given producer Cameron Chase’s desire to bring Vegas to Vancouver perhaps they should be looking at more current references to shows like Peepshow, Absinthe and maybe even Britney’s Sin City show. Kovac’s overall theme of acceptance is an admiral one, but it should not have to get so preachy in the end; he needs to trust his writing to inform that idea.
Despite its sometimes anemic story, there are some great performances going on here and rarely do the musical numbers disappoint. This cast of good looking men in women of all shapes and sizes are simply fearless when it comes to taking their clothes off. It was also great to an increase in the male quotient this year.
Ryan Bolton as the White Rabbit and Emily Kapahi as Alice work well together, but the romantic feelings they profess for each other in the end never really builds. The always watchable Sean Parsons attacks the role of The Red King with gusto, but there was an uncharacteristic nervousness on opening night.
Jacqueline Breakwell as the Cheshire Cat not only brings a very funny and identifiable cat-like persona to the stage (just wait until you see her play with Kovac’s long hair), she can also dance and sing too. The Greek chorus of Kayla Heyblom, Jennifer Long and Ranae Miller are always fun to watch, but more importantly they use their great singing voices both as a trio and as back-up. Director Dawn Ewen was smart to use the three to help some of the weaker musical numbers. Ewen is also responsible for the energetic and sexy choreography that demonstrated some incredibly inventive ways in which to take off clothes.
The cabaret set-up at Performance Works allows audiences to have a few drinks, as is perhaps befitting a show of this nature, but sightlines are a bit of a problem. And while last year’s show also suffered the same fate, there was an immediacy to the show that the smaller venue last year allowed and was lost somewhat in the cavernous black box on Granville Island. Ewen tries to help by breaking down the fourth wall at times, but that usually just meant a quick chase through the audience or an entrance.
I’m still a huge fan of what producer Cameron Chase and his Concerte Vertigo Productions are trying to do as there really is nothing like it happening on Vancouver stages. A fun hybrid theatrical experience that helps elevates the art of burlesque, Concrete Vertigo has proven, without a doubt, they can do the sexy. They still need to prove they can deliver on story.
Vixens of Wonderland by Mike Kovac. Directed and choreographed by Dawn Ewen. Musical direction by Stewart Yu. A Concerte Vertigo Productions presentation. On stage at Performance Works through August 29. Visit Brown Paper Tickets for tickets and information.