Increasingly when I go to check out new acts I’m beginning to feel like an agent or a critic for a vaudeville that no longer exists. As we all know, the singing comedienne was considered the highest of all possible acts in vaudeville: Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Blossom Seely — there was an army of them. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of acts like this pop up…comediennes who do a set of music with funny schtick and banter between.
I’ve already raved here and in my column about Alicia Levy’s comedy videos. The Countess and I caught her act the other night at the PIT. The reason why I say I feel like the vaudeville agent or critic is (unlike the typical theatre reviewer), I have a positive agenda. Rather than just sitting in the seat of judgment to praise or knock things without contributing, I want to be a buttinsky and tell them “Do this, do that, move this here, move that there.”
That’s how I felt watching Alicia’s show. But my underlying theme is already established: she’s got talent! If I suddenly saw her on a major national television show I wouldn’t bat an eye; she’s ready for it. And furthermore, she’s no shrinking violet about it. In Chickapalooza she gives us about a dozen very diverse characters in about an hour, and with the energy level (and lack of shame) of a Catskills tummler. Both Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis sprang to mind. Theatre is about craft but it’s also about spirit, it’s about playing with toys. Levy is overflowing with this kind of artless energy, and it helps her to build an informal rapport with her audience. The premise (if you havent already guessed from the title), is an all-female rock festival. But this is a one-chick show; all of the musical artists are played by Levy, ranging from a Spanish Harlem chica, to a Jewish cowgirl, to celebrities like Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper, Katy Perry and Macy Gray.
As a performer and a sketch writer, Alicia scores the highest marks. I had more difficulty with the songs for a whole variety of reasons: 1) I often couldn’t hear the lyrics; 2) some of them seemed to be done in an earnest spirit (as opposed to parodies), which I found confusing in the context of this show; 3) I frequently didn’t understand the references (admittedly that’s my own inadequacy. I had to look up Tori Amos, Katy Perry and Macy Gray up on Google just now); and 4) a lot of the lyrics need work to be up to the level of her performance and sketchwriting. And the order of the songs could be changed around.
But as Alicia’s character Grandma Imma from Westchester might say: “Who am I to be judge and jury? Don’t listen to me. You go ahead, you do your show. I know nothing!”