Random acts

Front-row reviews

What: The Rebelles
Where: North Carolina Stage Company
When: Saturday, Aug. 30

Outside, a crowd. And a huge crowd by local-theater standards, in fact — all of them waiting patiently for the chance (and it was only a chance) to get in.

It was the final night of the second run of Asheville’s unlikely phenomenon — burlesque show Through Sick & Sin — and a handful of tickets were about to go on sale.

Was it simply the idea that something titillating was unfolding behind those cigarette-girl-guarded doors? Was it just a reasonably artsy way to see some familiar downtown hotties strip down to their tassels?

Or was it something more?

After experiencing the Rebelles, I’m still not sure myself. Would this show have generated as much buzz if it hadn’t featured 15 local knockouts disrobing to live music? Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong — Through Sick & Sin is an amazingly professional show. In fact, it may be the most well-planned and produced piece of local stagecraft I’ve yet seen, featuring great costumes, outstanding tech work and a sense of atmosphere that begins as you’re led to your seat by a ravishing female escort.

Every visual and atmospheric element has been polished far beyond the normal scope of small-town theater and into the realm of full-fledged dramatic experience. The music — provided by local throwback kings Scrappy Hamilton and friends performing as The Pheromones — fit perfectly.

The show was sexy. It was funny. The pacing was good. And all the parts that really needed to work — from the masterfully choreographed dance teases down to the campy sight gags — did. I’d be lying if I said watching gorgeous women dance while slowly revealing glittery nipple tassels wasn’t what held my attention, but there was, honestly, a lot more going on than just a cheap tease and a few bawdy jokes.

In fact, the only element to fault was the acting: The other part of burlesque is comedy, and the Rebelles mostly landed their visual gags, double entendres and painfully silly puns. But, barring a few exceptions — most notably Isabelle Guzman‘s lead turn as Frau Lippenstift and Alexis Gault‘s witty transformation from anchorwoman Prudence Penance to party girl Tequila Mockingbird — the acting was visibly awkward. Still, the resulting corniness occasionally worked for the troupe, making the show seem unpretentious.

When I could force myself to glance away from the stage, all I saw were eyes locked forward and jaws hung loose. This was a crowd transfixed and transported — and, if only for an evening, the Rebelles owned them. That says a lot.

Ten sold-out performances in a row, with people suffering a sticky summer night for the mere chance to get a peek … well, that says a lot, too.

Under the radar (demo reviews)

Code Adam, Code Adam (Paul Golden, 2003)

When Paul Golden performs live — either solo or with backing musicians as Code Adam — many of his songs are classic high-school laments about not fitting in, never finding a girl who will talk to you, and how far-less-intelligent people seem to be getting all the breaks. His self-aware combination of urgent passion and whiny, pop-punk angst makes for a wickedly entertaining show.

“Dead Ends,” for instance, sets poppy acoustic guitar against Golden’s biting lyrics about a trailer-park girl’s search for direction and how “it’s not that easy being white trash and greasy.” It’s a fun, cleverly written song, and because of that, it’s hard not to want Golden to fill out an album with more of the same.

Yet this three-song demo just doesn’t capture his live show’s dark, bitter bite.

Code Adam’s LP is due in a few months, and with any luck it’ll play more to Golden’s strengths than does this demo, a worthwhile but incomplete tease.

Rating: Three out of five.

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