Take a handful of world class circus acts, add a bit of cabaret and burlesque, and you have La Soiree, the entirely enjoyable show in town for two weeks at the Riverfront Theatre. The entertainment originated at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, drew positive reviews, and took its show on the road through western Europe and onto Australia, Montreal, New York City, and now, happily, to Chicago.
La Soiree is an ideal attraction for people who enjoy exciting and novel circus acts and don’t mind some R-rated humor and nudity to spice up the evening. It might not be appropriate for children, but it makes for one great date show.
The production fits nicely in the informality of the Riverfront Theater tent, which has been converted into a theater-in-the round. The audience surrounds a tiny circular stage that accommodates most of the performances, though the action extends into the aisles and even atop a piano at the side. The show starts with a beefy baritone vocalist named Le Gateau Chocolat singing as he strides from the entrance to the stage, outfitted like a cross between Liberace and Ru Paul. The man looks bizarre but he has a solid operatic singing voice and he sets the tone for the evening, campy but artistic.
La Soiree is filled with the kind of quality specialty acts one expects from Cirque du Soleil or Ringing Brothers. Denis Lock and Hamish McCann, who call themselves the English Gents, enter dressed in natty suits and bowler hats and carrying rolled umbrellas. The pair immediately launch into a stunning series of balancing stunts that display remarkable strength and concentration, more impressive because the Gents are each slender lightweights. They later appear separately, one doing jaw-dropping balancing stunts on a lamp post and the other performing assorted hand stands on a very tall stack of chairs. For their finale, the Gents strip down to their skivvies emblazoned with the Union Jack flag. Stripping is an integral part of this production, about which more later.
Yulia Pykhtina does wondrous things with hula hoops and Bret Pfister executes all manner of graceful acrobatic stunts on a large hoop suspending from the rafters. The show’s closer is David O’Mer, who performs an aerial ballet on what look like bungee straps, frequently descending into a large tub of water and emerging to spray nearby spectators (the first row gets a sheet to protect them from a dousing). Nate Cooper adds a dash of comedy as a man uncertainly navigating on roller skates on the tiny stage surface, throwing in some juggling for embellishment.
Most of the show is suitable for family audiences but the management recommends it for mature audiences, largely because of the performance by Susannah Martinez. This stately lady produces bright red handkerchiefs from within her dress and then proceeds to make them disappear. As the act continues Martinez disrobes until she is totally naked on the stage. And still she pulls out those red handkerchiefs and makes them vanish, leaving the audience to ponder just where those cloths come from and where they go.
Then there is Amy G, who earns the nod as the most unique specialty act of the show. She starts out as a stand-up comedienne, but she has a more distinctive skill beyond telling political jokes. Amy G plays the kazoo, the instrument inserted under her gown and between her legs. She then toots out the patriotic song “America,” performing a duet with herself by conventionally playing a second kazoo with her mouth. The mouth kazoo holds no mystery, but where does she find the pneumatic power to play the instrument between her legs? Like the nude Martinez and her disappearing handkerchiefs, this act invites speculation. Clearly Amy G possesses a special talent that extends the borders of show business prowess.
If there is a negative to the show, it resides with the poor acoustics and low-fi sound system. The acts are performed to recorded music that ranges from classical baroque to pop to rhythm-and-blues to show-tunes-rock to Duke Ellington. The volume was on high and too often drowned out lyrics and spoken interludes. Most of the show is nonverbal and is unaffected by the acoustics, but Amy G and La Gateau Chocolat suffer. They were loud enough but difficult to understand. The act damaged the most by the acoustical difficulties was Mooky, a lady comic who brings an audience member on stage to play a scene from Romeo and Juliet and generally exchange banter. She must have been funny because lots of people were laughing but I had a miserable time trying to follow what she was saying.
Fortunately, the sound system’s defects were never a serious impediment to the show’s success. The staging gives the production an intimacy that puts the spectators at their ease and stimulated much hooting and hollering of appreciation, just the way the performers want it.
photos by Prudence Upton
Riverfront Theater in Chicago
scheduled to end on August 5, 2012
for tickets, call 888 556 9484 or visit http://www.RiverfrontTheatre.com
for La Soiree’s future dates and tickets, visit http://www.la-soiree.com/
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com