Burlesque is back. In a brand new musical comedy at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, “Minsky’s” is bringing the old style of entertainment to a new audience. The play, with a run from Jan. 21 to Mar. 1, is a production with plenty of kinks to be worked out, but overall presents a good time for everyone involved.
The show, written by Bob Martin, is centered around a 1930 New York burlesque house. Billy Minsky, played by the impressively energetic Christopher Fitzgerald, runs the house, and is trying to keep his business up while a new politician is gunning to shut down all traces of smut in the city. Of course, Minsky falls in love with the politician’s daughter, and musical hijinks occur.
The several celebrities in the show represent the most fun aspect of the production. Rachel Dratch, from seven seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” plays the most humorous character, Beula. Her interpretation of jokes had the audience cracking up—especially in her musical number, “I Want a Life.” There were several scenes that would have fallen flat without her deadpan delivery.
George Wendt, from “Cheers,” plays the politician, Randolph Sumner. Although he gets some of the sillier scenes (like a repeated pie in the face gag,) Wendt is a consummate professional, and he brings much to the production. “Mad TV” veteran Paul Vogt also appears as the hilarious Russian thug Boris.
Because this is the musical’s first run there are still many areas that can be improved. The music overall is solid—lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and music by Charles Strouse—show promise.
However, the dance numbers, choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, leave the audience disappointed. These are moments that should have been the most show stopping, but they turn out to be sloppy and the dancers were hardly ever together, even when precision and tight formations were required.
Several songs could have been shortened (“Eyes Like That” and “Happy,”) and there were even a few that producers should consider completely cutting out (“Someone” and “Workin’ Hot Reprise.”) A few of the show numbers, like “Bananas” and “Cleopatra,” are reprised too many times—the audience gets the feel after the first version.
The sets, designed by Anna Louizos, are outstanding. They easily transform from the backstage at Minksy’s to an old-fashioned New York street. Lighting by Ken Billington aids the production’s showiness factor. Also, the costumes are an impressive part of the production—great attention to detail is paid to every costume, including the showgirls’ elaborate outfits.
The best part of the show by far was the performance by Beth Leavel, who plays the house’s stage mom, Maisie. Leavel won the 2006 Tony Award for her role in “The Drowsy Chaperone” (another recent production at the Ahmanson,) and proves her talent in this show as well. She gets some of the best songs in the show, “You Gotta Get Up When You’re Down,” “Every Number Needs a Button,” and “Home.” It is her portrayal of the bluesy broad that ties the whole production together.
While the show could use some refining before making its Broadway debut, the production is fun, lighthearted, and entertaining—the perfect form of escapism.