Cleopatra the Musical, Damn Yankees, Hiding Behind Comets, Real Hush-Hush
Ryan Landry swears that if there’s a more lavish musical extravaganza in town than his Cleopatra the Musical (at Machine through May 27), he’ll eat his negligee. Well, let there be no fear of silk balls plugging the gut of the playwright/performer, who in this show wriggles out of his customary drag to slip into something more comfortable: Julius Caesar’s breastplate and toga. The Queen of the Nile is played by statuesque Afrodite, whose pipes outshine even the constantly morphing, glitter-bestrewn wardrobe (the numerous costumes are by Scott Martino) in this Cecil-B.-DeMille-on-a-shoestring spectacular that features Busby Berkeley dancing slave girls, Roman Muppets, Caesar’s Palace, battalions of warring Ken dolls toppling from a miniature battle field, footage from the 1934 Claudette Colbert film, and regal Egyptian eye candy that parades into Rome on a hydraulic lift. Elizabeth Taylor, be very afraid.
DAMN YANKEES: Baseball, apple pie, and Satanic manipulation.
This is territory Landry was born to conquer: campy before he even got there. And the Gold Dust Orphans, under James P. Byrne’s direction, put on one hell of a show. Cleopatra features, along with $400 worth of feathers and a working milk bath, a lurid scenario that does not veer too far from what we know of ancient history. Along with enough simulated frenzied sex to fire up Caligula, Landry supplies clever vaudeville dialogue (“The people are revolting.” “You can say that again.”), and there are well-belted rock songs by Landry and Bill Hough (performed to raucous pre-recorded accompaniment by Landry’s band, Space Pussy). The dramatis personae include, in addition to the usual suspects, such characters as Syphilis, Prognosis, Fistula, and Fagonius. The spectacle is ingenious, cheesy, and uproarious, with a lot of clowning both villainous and vamping. Amid the political and libidinous swirl are strong showings by Mark Meehan as an ineffectually impassioned Antony bringing down the house with a rocking ode to his “love jones,” Landry as a lustful but curiously shy Caesar, Gene Dante as a BC Simon Legree of an Octavian, and Sharon Hart performing a zippy paean to the lily-white Caucasian-ness of Rome. Afrodite has real chops for the blues and gives a performance that binds diva flouncing to genuine poignancy inside one thick, shimmering, skintight frock. Or make that a dozen, including the rug in which she’s delivered to Caesar.
North Shore Music Theatre honcho Jon Kimbell had the smart idea of dressing up the 1955 baseball musical Damn Yankees in Red Sox uniforms, and the result is now at bat (at NSMT through May 14). Joe DiPietro’s dusting off of the George Abbott/Douglass Wallop book is set during the 1957 season. Comfortably married coach potato Joe Boyd (a Washington Senators devotee in the original) becomes a Sox fan so downcast at his team’s sucking record that he makes a Faustian deal to become the young player who can turn things around. The tweaking is seamless, and who can resist a re-envisioned show that lays the Curse of the Bambino on the Devil’s doorstep — right under the red-socked cloven hoof of a dapper Satan who supports the Yankees? Given some tightening and the elimination of a couple of numbers (including “Who’s Got the Pain?”, memorably mambo-ized by Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse in the 1958 film), the show comes in at two and a quarter hours, including an opening-night appearance by Wally the Green Monster trying unsuccessfully to get the Wave going.
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