The all-too-brief run of Bombs Away Cabaret’s latest, Eat Your Heart Out: A Knockout Thriller, ended this past weekend. If you missed it, your loss. Light, bright, feisty and accomplished, without ever taking itself seriously, it put the moon’s light of love back in the sorely abused word “amateur,” the burla (“joke”) back in burlesque, and the broad back in … well … broad.
In fact, this dictionary definition of “burlesque,” courtesy of Random House’s Dictionary.com Unabridged, helps put the production in context: “a humorous and provocative stage show featuring slapstick humor, comic skits, bawdy songs, striptease acts, and a scantily-clad female chorus.” Exactly! The American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of “camp” comes in handy, too: “Having deliberately artificial, vulgar, banal, or affectedly humorous qualities or style: played up the silliness of their roles for camp effect.”
Not that one would need a dictionary or other intellectual apparatus to follow along. The packed house on the night this reviewer attended plainly knew, and thoroughly enjoyed, what it was in for.
The story, in the best tradition, is a throwaway: the vivacious, sexily semi-clothed “Bombs Away Bombshells” — Ms. Moxie, Moira Lee D’Praved, Lotta Hart and Ivana Stabovich, (and, yes, these noms de guerre do double duty as character names and light identity concealment) — are in a terrible tizzy, because Bernadette Housedown, co-host of the reality TV show So, You Think You Can Strip? is on her way to Asheville, with assistant Anita Bigbrek, to see if the Bombshells have what it takes to make the big time. (Actually, they’re Bombshells, too, but never mind.)
Unfortunately, shortly after the Hollywood women’s arrival, Hart — who, according to her program note, “is a confused mix of natural sensuality and instilled Mormon values,” inadvertently cracks Housedown in the head with a bust of Joseph Smith. How to conceal from Moxie, the most responsible member of the troupe, that Housedown’s dead?
Hilarity ensues, as do news alerts of zombies on the loose and then their appearance in the form of an inadvertently uncredited Darren Marshall and of “Ruby Kinkay,” who, at the close of the first act, enacts the only actual strip of the evening: a zombie strip. (Yes, the burst-the-balloons bit is traditional to the form, but not the bubbling blood!) In the second act, Kinkay develops an unhealthy relationship with a bottle of Febreze, after one of the Bombshells uses it in a failed attempt to disguise the intolerable scent she assumes emanates from Housedown’s corpse.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of time for Moxie to tell scabrous jokes well, and to sing sweetly (and, in the case of “Don’t Sing for Free,” to strap on a guitar to play) one of the many clever, tuneful original songs; for D’Praved to sing pleasingly the famous aria from Carmen (while her “friends” hold up signs with mock translations); and for guest artists to entertain delightfully: acrobatics and feats of strength from break-dancers Hunab Kru; superior belly dancing from Lisa Zahiya, and one of the most remarkable, funny, and occasionally terrifying contortionist acts by Yanni. (Ah, what boredom and a plastic coat hanger taught him he could do!) At the upright piano, Aaron Price excels at accompaniment.
But back to the action. Ivana Stabovich, with both an unlit cigarette and one of the best bad Russian accents in the business in her mouth, offers to resolve all problems with a knife, and sings the priceless “No Smoking in This Bar.” Hart, D’Praved, Stabovich, and Moxie perform “When Daddy Doesn’t Love You,” which explains a lot. Anita Bigbrek finally gets her big break (since the boss is down for the count), and does a belly dance of her own that rivals Zahiya’s. Marshall, as stagehand, gets laughs carting the corpse of Housedown on and off the stage repeatedly, until she revives enough to do an appropriately “stiff” dance solo. (She’d really only been knocked out, you see, and needs to be knocked out again, so Hart and the bust of Joseph Smith happily oblige.)
There is no resolution to the plot, such as it is, and how could there be? There never was a real problem, except maybe for the zombies, and what’s to be done about them, except for the Bombshells to dance a la, and to, Michael Jackson? A fine way to get one more glimpse of all these delectable dames.
Caveats? The acting isn’t always the best, and occasionally weak vocal projection makes it difficult to hear the lines. But that’s a small price to pay for so much good humor.
Bombs Away Cabaret will be back. Don’t miss ’em.
Eat Your Heart Out: A Knockout Thriller. Presented by Bombs Away Cabaret. Script by Meg Hale and Laura Grant. Original music and lyrics by Meg Eason, Laura Grant, Meg Hale, Shalene Wyrick, and Aaron Price. Director: Charlotte Lawrence. Choreographer: Chelsea Crispin. Set design: Blaine Willis. Lighting and sound design: Ryan Madden. Costumes: Seana Steele. Props: Shalene Wyrick. Piano: Aaron Price. Stage Manager: Caitlin Lane. Proceeds from all performances went to benefit writer and performer Jo Carson, to help pay her massive medical bills.