By Hephzibah Dutt
Kansas City’s Bohemian Cult Revival brings a burlesque-concept tribute to Queen to the KC Fringe. Coming up on their second year together, this nine-personal ensemble makes its first foray into using multimedia as part of their mise-en-scene. The performers sing, lip-sync, dance, stage-combat, spoof and strip their way through eight numbers by the revolutionary, unforgettable rock band, while video clips act as backdrop or interludes to the number that follow. Emcee, Chris “The Beard” Arnone presides through the events.
Queen’s, Freddie Mercury features heavily in the clips, as well as cuts from various appropriately-historic cartoons and shows, making this performance as much a nostalgia feast for the ages as it is a Queen tribute. The vignettes that make up the show vary in style and content; the unifying features being physical comedy, sass, sparkles and pasties galore…also bucket-loads of energy and undeniable joy.
Some performers sparkled brighter than others. Damian Blake’s lip-sync to Somebody to Love (with a boxful of crooning kittens as chorus) was representative of the best in Chaplain-esque comedic style and charisma. Katie Gilchrist’s unabashedly ridiculous vignette (set to Queen’s Flash, AKA Flash Gordon theme) was not just hilarious but oddly cerebral; she laughingly subverted the very idea of what it means to gaze upon the naked female body. Drawing upon the workings of the mundane body (sans feathers, glitter, silks or any outward trappings of glamour), her act was a cunning satire of burlesques and strip shows as a whole.
Given that Burlesque as an artform has been surging back into the entertainment scene only since the early 2000’s, critical and popular opinions about its style, construct, purpose and even ethics are highly debated. BCR’s ambitious project to blend a musical homage with the complexities of an art-form that was (and always will be) countercultural, results in an unexpected but highly entertaining version of burlesque (a burlesque of Burlesque?). I venture to classify it as “naughty vaudeville.”
This is owed in part to the variety-show approach (each performer showcases a different talent), limited choreographed dance numbers and the clown-personas amongst the glamour-girls. The second reason is this: the titillation and tease that is normally associated with Burlesque is somewhat truncated, abbreviated to a sudden flashing of pasties. Amidst the comic routines, extensive use of video and undefeatable dominance of Queen’s music, sexual burlesque aspects of the show seemed like an unnecessary or perhaps underdeveloped feature.
Infact, there is a slight disjoint, between the image we are marketed and the show we are given. I believe this is owed in part to enormity of their undertaking: tribute shows, and burlesques are in themselves huge productions which require intricate craft, intention and shaping. Approaching them together presents a beast of a project.
BCR has stepped into this task with a joie de vivre, laughter and gusto—and with commendable results, especially considering the short, two years since their inception! However, I’m hoping they remain a Kansas City mainstay and even a standard for variety shows and non-traditional theatre. For this great vision (should they share it) the years to come must need see them add finesse, craft (production value, conceptual intentionality) and consistency across their ensemble and show.
Even as is, their “naughty vaudeville” was hugely entertaining, all the way up to the triumphant, heart-swelling manifesto, “art joins us through the rages of life[…]it shows the world it cannot break us, no matter how much pressure it puts on us”
(exuet to Under Pressure)