Minksy's. Ahmanson Theatre. 2/11/09.
First and foremost, Minsky's is a fun show. I laughed out loud, really. It's cute, entertaining fare and I wouldn't hesitate to take my parents. It may not be as good as Kiss Me Kate or Guys and Dolls, but wants to be a cross between the two in the tradition of the backstage musical with a genuine love for the theater and a happy little romance plot. Everyone who I've talked to has good things to say about it. It's intended to follow Curtains and The Drowsy Chaperone in transferring to Broadway and it will probably do just fine there.
However, I can't say that means I'm an unequivocal fan. The show had some charming moments, and the closing number, "Nothing Lasts Forever," was truly delightful, but much of the show was rough going, especially at the beginning. The first two numbers, both "rehearsal" scenes at Minsky's Burlesque Palace, did a terrible job at establishing the characters or making me feel sympathetic toward our leading man. It really took far too long for either of the leads to interest me at all. By the end I was fan, and Christopher Fitzgerald did an excellent job as Billy Minsky, but he needed much better character development earlier in the show. In fact, most of the characters could use more development early on - just because they're recognizable types doesn't mean I'll care about them. Overall, the show was deliberately filled with tired jokes and routines, hoping that the comfort of the familiar will make the old feel new again.
As a theater historian, I find the show's representation of burlesque fascinating but problematic. Rather than being either entertaining or provocative, Minsky's starts out just stripping the girls almost naked and starting from there. From everything I know about burlesque, it may not be classy, but the point is at least partially the humor and the tease, not just the fact that the girls aren't wearing very much. While I liked the clever humor of "Keep it Clean" in which the girls spend most of the number just barely covering themselves with towels as they bathe, several of the other "burlesque" numbers seem to miss the point of burlesque altogether. The show plays fast and loose with both the source material and the historical background in order to create a setting that feels more contemporary, but the attempt to be relevant feels heavy-handed and personally, I think both the historical facts and the film version seem more interesting.
Minsky's is trying to be all-too-contemporary in its discussion of the economic downturn (read: Great Depression) and culture wars, but it seems to be doing so without quite enough self-awareness to feel contemporary. The message seems to be that some good, old-fashioned entertainment is the solution to all economic problems, as evidenced by the number "You Gotta Get Up When You're Down," but the show doesn't really establish that the Depression is really the problem. They keep mentioning it, but it would be nice to see the economic hardship actually performed (perhaps in an opening musical number?). Instead, the show starts with rehearsal and then psychiatrists, which, while hilarious, seem like a luxury in times of economic hardship. The message of the show, as evidenced in the title of the NY Times review: What's the Cure for those Depression Blues? Hoofing in Your Scanties. The idea that theater is part of the cure for economic and psychological depression is a good one, though not at all well developed in Minsky's - the show just served to remind me of my underemployed status and how I should go to cheaper theater than the Broadway-bound show (even though I didn't pay for the ticket). I just kept feeling that I would have more fun and excitement and less guilt if I saw smaller, cheaper theater. I don't think that's really the message the Ahmanson wants so send right now.
In fact, the whole thing made me want to go to some actual burlesque, which isn't as dead as the musical wants me to think.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Minksy's. Ahmanson Theatre. 2/11/09.
Posted by Violet Vixen at 12:50 PM