REVIEW: Vivacious Vaudeville (Auckland Fringe)

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Frivolity and a few Cheeks [by James Wenley]

Love this poster!

Lily Loca has created a streamlined version of her Vaudeville Cabaret experience especially for the Auckland Fringe. Vivacious Vaudeville is my first time I’ve seen one of her shows (there have been five previous) so going in I was officially, as Loca put it, one of the ‘virgins’. As a Vaudeville there is no specific thematic link between the acts that we are treated to – which include magic, burlesque, and jazz – but catchwords I would choose to describe the evening would be ‘frivolous’ and ‘cheeky’ (sometimes literally).

A high energy opening, with blazing police sirens and flashing light sees each performer being frozen in spotlight as a voice over details the reasons why each are wanted by the law – generally for crimes of frivolity – and this is an effective way of introducing each act.

The show’s creator Natalie Hugill MCs the evening, first as her Loca persona, then as Loca’s distance relative Jethro from red neck America, and finally as Gary, a sweet, meek nerd who just wants to express himself. Gary particularly won the audience over with his guitar serenade of a Justin Bieber cover to a member of the audience.

The first act is Romano Zuchinni (Ken Samson) a sort of Italian Uncle-type who thinks he’s a stud, who mixes magic from his briefcase with innuendo-filled humour. I’m left non-plussed by his stand-up routine, which relies on tired New Zealand men and their sheep jokes. When his set-piece starts get interesting with two audience volunteers learning how to crack whips, it wraps-up without any sort of pay off. Zuchinni does demonstrate his smooth ability at interacting with the audience and deftly deals with a particularly persistent heckler. This skill proves useful in his second act later in the evening: a variation on the disappearing handkerchief trick that escalates into some very high-risk naked comedy, and this time it does have a big pay-off. Samson’s Zuchinni is a great showman and his very naughty magic has the potential to be spun-off into his own show if the throw-away gags can be sharpened.

Jazz Singer Looney Rouge shows off her versatility in her two numbers. ‘I want to have eggs for breakfast’ is a flippant ditty that ends with a strip reveal where the eggs are sunny side up. Her second song – ‘Thank god I’m pretty’ – is delivered with strength and power, and she showcases her remarkable sultry and gravelly tonsils as she transforms into a Showgirl. Rouge is accompanied by the The Speitatet, an impeccable jazz trio who give added swing and class to the proceedings throughout the show.

Willow Noir‘s two numbers show us, or should I say tease us, why she is the current Miss Burlesque New Zealand. She performs for us the Burlesque she won the title with – she enters wearing a nun’s habit, and playfully uncovers the character’s secret sexual desires. She also closes her show with a sexy 20s flapper inspired Burlesque. Noir moves her body wonderfully, but her secret is her complete connection with the audience, and her sly facial language. Noir really is the whole package, and the standout of Vivacious Vaudeville.

The gender-ambiguous Patty Hagg cameos as a long-suffering stage manager who wears a parade of delightfully hideously neon fashions and sets up each act. Hagg draws our attention each time she enters the stage, and I would have been interested to find out more about this one.

While the ingredients are all here for a high quality entertainment, they haven’t set. I was uneasy about Loca’s request for the audience to laugh at the top of the show to avoid any “awkward silences”: I know this is an attempt to hype up the audience, but the show should be able to speak for itself.  While Vivacious V is an hour it feels longer: the show needs to zip along but there is too much filler while we wait for the next act. The individual performers have a lot going for them; but the whole doesn’t quite equal the parts. Lilly Loca’s Vaudeville Cabaret Fringe offering is a good introduction to her brand of entertainment for a Loca virgin, and I’m curious about where they take the format next.

Vivacious Vaudeville is presented by Lilly Loca’s Vaudeville Cabaret and plays at Q Loft until 16th Feb during Auckland Fringe. More details see Q.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe

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