The inevitable transition of the year-old Asheville Vaudeville from the cramped quarters at the BeBe Theatre to the generous hallows of Asheville Community Theatre was perfectly timed with Halloween weekend. Asheville Vaudeville has more than its share of town freaks with weird and surprising talent, and this demographic sure does love their costuming and parades. The lobby of ACT was packed to claustrophobic heights on Friday night, filled with sparkly vamp accoutrements, homemade wings and period costumes, only some of which were actually worn by performers. Asheville Vaudeville has certainly found a new home, and their lengthy summer hiatus created a sense of anticipation that kicked off their new season and new venue with a bang.
Friday night the theatre, with its over 300 seat capacity, was nearly full, a sign that the move to ACT was well timed and very necessary. The house band, Sirius.B, set the mood and sustained it musically throughout the show. However, the musicians need to be aware that by being onstage throughout the show, if you’re looking bored, restless or chatty, you will pull focus despite not being in the spotlight. Baron von Sneeden, also known as director/producer Brian Sneeden, emceed the show in his trademark tails and top hat. Witty and enthusiastic, Sneeden can slow the proceedings down with his languid delivery, but he never overstayed his welcome in between acts.
The acts were numerous and varied, not all of which can be covered in this review, so adopting reviewer Samuels’ style from a year ago, let us highlight the strongest acts first.
Forty Fingers and a Missing Tooth: This group has matured and grown into a veritable comedy act. Set to the tune of “The Final Countdown”, the jugglers mugged their way through impressive juggling feats. Jugglers are not necessarily funny, but these four have a wonderful synergy and enthusiasm (best displayed by Ingrid Johnson) and were well served by the much higher ceiling clearance. A few members returned later in the evening to juggle knives dangerously close to the Baron’s face, in an act that created the hushed nervousness in the audience that comes with daredevil maneuvers.
El Diablo: Proving that there’s more to juggling than knives and pins, El Diablo works with something that was proven after a Google search to also be called a diablo. Apparently evolved from the Chinese yo-yo, diablos are large spools maneuvered on a string between two sticks, and often tossed high in the air to be caught again. Mr. El Diablo was quite skilled and impressive, and did not even bat an eye when a diablo rolled into the audience; he simply gestured offstage and expertly caught the new diablo that was tossed from the wings.
Moonsilver Acrobalance: A welcome and impressive addition to the Vaudeville roster are Blue de Leeuw and Alan Malpass, a muscular duo of adagio acrobatics that was one of the more impressive acts of the evening. Both performers are members of Asheville Aerial Arts, and after witnessing their incredible displays of flexibility, balance, strength, and artistry, one can only imagine what they could do while also in the air.
Cripps Puppets: Despite some choppy transitions and confusing stage banter, Madison Cripps’ puppets won over the audience with ease. They were perfectly suited for the occasion with their loveable freak monster looks, though the simplest puppet, a caterpillar, was the most adorable. Once Cripps harnesses a better narrative for them, they could be the stars of the show.
The Flight of the Luna Moth: ACT’s higher ceiling clearance allows aerial to be a showstopper, and this performance piece nearly qualified. Ambra Lionstone’s performance was gasp-worthy, though somewhat sidetracked by the unnecessary performance poetry and a large spider on a stick that elicited what were likely unexpected laughs, and then overstayed its welcome.
In need of tightening and more rehearsal were The Vendetta Crème Moonlight Revue, whose simple dance moves were not consistently synchronized and whose performance energy was a bit more on the awkward side. Also, Bellydancing on Stilts was initially impressive (as anyone on stilts usually is) but after about 20 seconds it was revealed that the best part of belly dancing is hip motion, which is severely limited by being perched on said stilts. Beginning the show with Valerie Meiss at the piano doing a sluggish song was not the best choice for the show’s momentum, which also dragged a bit during the skit performance of Jim Julien. The acts that were more talent-oriented set the bar higher for the theatrical pieces, a bar that they generally did not reach due to sloppy timing and what appeared to be a lack of rehearsal. The Slapstick Duet’s first appearance had a lovely Laurel and Hardy adorableness to it, but their second turn on the stage seemed haphazard.
Overall, Asheville Vaudeville is maturing at a rapid pace, and offers a revue of acts unrivaled in town. Their next show is not listed on their site, so whether they will return to monthly performances is not known. And can the acts challenge themselves to come up with new and exciting material on a monthly basis, and is there enough quirky talent in town to keep Vaudeville continually fresh? Based on their recent Halloween special, the chances look promising.