If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Burlesque Musical "Fan Dance" at Downtown Cabaret
The good news is that musical theatre has returned to the Downtown Cabaret Theatre. The bad news is it's the area premiere of "Fan Dance: The Legend of Sally Rand". It must be noted that the good will and sheer entertainment value that the Bridgeport venue has provided over the years is not dispelled one iota with this latest effort. "Fan Dance" is from producers Barry Singer and Joe Miranda and their New York Theatrical Productions who have booked the Cabaret for this project. Whether this was a smart move on the Cabaret’s part, only time will tell. In the meantime, we continue to wish them well and hope for better.
Harriet Helen Beck was renamed Sally Rand by Cecil B. DeMille while performing in one of his silent films. From that auspicious start the rest, they say, is history. Rand became a notable burlesque performer specializing in bubble dances and, more famously, the fan dance which tickled and teased audience members with a flash of skin and not much more. She was a controversial figure who admittedly led a colorful life, but little of that actually ever materializes in this wan new musical written and directed by Misty Rowe. Ms. Rowe has delighted Cabaret audiences previously most notably in "Always...Patsy Cline", a big hit for the theatre several seasons ago.
For “Fan Dance”, Rowe tends to take a back seat in the rather listless role of the older Sally Rand while her younger self is played in flashback by Amber Carpenter. A lithe and attractive actress, Miss Carpenter nonetheless seems thoroughly out of her depth in this challenging role. There is little of Rand’s sexual allure and famed mystique evident in Carpenter's bland performance. Unfortunately, Rowe's scattershot approach to this life story could not make playing the multi-faceted performer very easy. In covering several decades a marriage comes and goes in the blink of an eye while an adoption and two nearly identical domestic abuse scenes are played back-to-back. The subplot involving another woman who shares a similar history with Rand is confused and unnecessary and this kitchen sink musical flounders about for two hours looking for focus.
As director, Ms. Rowe must also take blame for the numerous blackouts which stall the show dead in its tracks several times. She also misuses comedy legend Steve Rossi who performs ten minutes of stand-up comedy in the musical's first act and often looks like he wandered in from another show. That Mr. Rossi manages to endear himself to the audience with his brief appearance is testament to the talents of a seasoned pro who knows how to work a crowd. This includes his energetic singing of "Minnie the Moocher" that had Cabaret patrons happily singing along.
Another pro, Joy Franz, is also a highlight among the mostly amateurish company playing a variety of roles and belting out "It Don't Mean A Thing..." with zeal and purpose. And Julian Farinas, as the show’s lead male dancer, works overtime in several strong displays of his dancing skill. Still, such bright lights are few and far between in an otherwise misbegotten evening that offers further proof of why burlesque is dead.
"Fan Dance: The Legend of Sally Rand" continues at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport through April 25th. For further information and tickets reservations call the box office at 203.576.1634 or online at www.downtowncabaret.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on April 7, 2010.