We lucked into some tickets to previews for Pinchbottom’s new burlesque production Pretencion last night and I can’t say enough good things about it. I thought it was a brilliant premise to begin with; the fact that it exceeded my high hopes is testament to how good it is, in my megalomaniacal opinion.
Their marketing materials were the tip-off. This is (among other things) a big time Cirque du Soleil spoof — and not one for people who like Cirque du Soleil. Writer/director/ star Jonny Porkpie’s gloves are off, even as his fez is on. All that phony goop about “magic” and “imagination” while a bunch of creeps slink around in multicolored lizard costumes gets skewered with the take-no-prisoners spirit of an airplane hijacking. Seeing this all happen at the Elektra Theatre (over Times Scare), right in the Belly of the Beast of the “New Times Square”, gives the proceedings special savor. It’s like the bad kids fooling around at the chalkboard when the teacher is out of the room.
Porkpie accomplishes this all while dexterously juggling a rather challenging structural feat: a show that simultaneously functions as BOTH kinds of burlesque: 1) the old school spoofy narrative with a jokey Mad Magazine style parody plot; and 2) a first class cooch show.
Half the cast take part in the plot, in addition to performing specialty turns, i.e., strips. As co-directed by Porkpie and Jeremy X. Halpern they are old school Theatre of the Ridiculous, fast, funny and furious, broad, confident, with an accent on the wocka-wocka. A small coterie of friends find themselves on a “magical journey” to get their Pretencion back, among them Murray Hill our wisecracking host; Porkpie as four identical Magicians; Tansy, the ooh-la-la French Ringmistress; Tigger as Tiggo the Clown and Broadway Brassy as a Fairy, whose wig looks like it was made out of delicious grape cotton candy. Also Julie Atlas Muz was a truly hysterical mime (from the Mountain of Mime), and Ivory Fox and Lilly Hayes were some sort of twin creatures who reminded me of Thing Two and Thing One.
Periodically the thing stops on a dime so Porkpie can announce a burlesque act, and this is when the guest stars come in and do their turns: last night they had Angie Pontani, Dirty Martini and Jo Boobs in addition to the folks above. In terms of the burlesque world, this was an ALL-STAR show. And all the dancers were doing their tried and true, “A” material. This was a lotta show. And all on top of Porkpie’s extremely smart and witty script, complete with song parodies referencing Les Mis and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Plus a charm and a spontaneity and a spark and a rawness that reminded me a great deal of the old days of Collective Unconscious, Surf Reality, etc, etc. only with a good deal more confidence and polish (as will happen when you’ve been at this for a number of years as Porkpie has).
In short, this is a worthy antidote to all the dead theatre they’re always foisting on people in mid-town. I hope the Pinchbottom virus is strong, hearty and catching.