Monday, November 26, 2012
Theater review: Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents: A Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker at Addison Theater Center
You've never seen The Nutcracker look this good, thanks to the Velvet Kittens.
ADDISON What can you say about a show that has become a staple for MBS Productions over the past six years and garnered reviews like “laugh-out-loud funny,” “over-the-top, must see, ‘nut cracking’ romp,” “the most hilarious production I have ever seen,” and was nominated for the 2011 Nutty Award?
Having never seen this show, and only one other MBS production that didn’t overly impress me, I must admit I was a little skeptical about attending the opening night performance of Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents' A Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker. Anything receiving that much praise has a lot to live up to.
As lots of people know by now, the plot revolves around the ladies of the Beulaville Baptist Book Club who are in dire straits financially and so pull in a favor to have the Beaumont Ballet perform Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker as a fundraiser. Unfortunately a “culinary accident” brings down the whole terpsichorean cast, and new dancers must be found immediately. As luck would have it, the Velvet Kittens Burlesque Dancers, on their way to New Orleans, are stuck in Beulaville because of car trouble and are hired innocently enough to perform their own version of The Nutcracker. It is at this point, of course, that the hilarity is set up to occur.
Fortunately, the show is filled with lots of energy and good hearted foolishness and the actors and the majority of the audience really seems to be enjoying themselves. That the show goes on way too long after the joke is established and dealt with doesn’t seem to bother the crowd, many of whom appear to be returning customers. There is plenty of laughing and clapping, and the juxtaposition of the familiar classical music of the traditional ballet with bur-less-q moves is really funny, at least for the first few dances.
Also, the dancers themselves are very good and seem to be having fun and that helps to sell the joke long after it should. Mark-Brian Sonna gets to show off his still considerable dancing talent and the audience eats it up, including the lone young adolescent male with his parents in the audience who got special attention and ribbing from the cast and took it with good humored ease.
While it has been noted by some critics in the past, that the first act goes on too long in setting up the joke for the second act, it’s always fun to see local stereotypes portrayed, especially when we can identify each as someone we know either from afar or intimately. The actors take each character and wring out every ounce of Texas twang and narrow-mindedness or eccentricity available. The problem is, after they’ve established who these people are and what group they represent, we want more. We want a pay-off of some kind that never quite comes.
It’s not from lack of trying. Mark-Brian Sonna mugs and poses and spends most of the evening with his tongue hanging out being goofy. In fact, during the dances, I was afraid he might bite the tip of it off! He’s funny and clever and knows how to play an audience and put them at ease and draw them in and, hell yes, the man can dance!
After being practically mute and addled in the first act, Linda Much as Wilma becomes a crusty old take-charge broad in the second act, a much more interesting character. She knows how to steal the lime light when needed. Charli Armstrong as Ramona is the sassy and outwardly religious, bible quoting token African-American and she can get an "Amen" with the best of them. She really seems to enjoy those moments when she can cut loose and shake some booty like a born again Velvet Kitten. Barbara McIntyre as Madge makes a delayed entrance carrying a potato chip casserole and continues to nail every food joke like a well crafted recipe. Sylvia, the president and resident conservative (with a past) is embodied by Kristen Blevins James while wearing a cast on her left foot. Despite what I hope is a minor injury, she establishes her superiority and single mindedness without a hitch.
The ladies of the titular book club take a back seat to the Velvet Kittens in the second act and let them shine. Jennifer Leigh as Jana especially impresses with her dancing and her exchanges with Mr. Sonna. Kristene Littlefield as the gum-smacking Jill gets all her jokes and then some. Summer Martinez and Maria Perez-Hernandez as Jojo and Jocelyn, respectively, do their part to fill out the troop, hoofing away with the best of them. Mr. Sonna and Jana Edele have come up with some fun-filled choreography that sends up not only The Nutcracker, but several other shows as well while still remaining entertaining and even exciting to watch.
Credit director Charles Ballinger for keeping the pace moving. Now if he would just do some judicious cutting – say down to an hour and a half total - he’d really have a show. Sets and props by Alejandro de la Costa are spare but work just fine. Costumes and wigs by Larry E Groselcose are additional clues for the audience that help to fill out the persona of each character with mostly tongue-in-cheek glee. All of this is lighted by Richard S. Blake clearly and precisely.
The show is a light-weight piece of want-to-be-filthy fluff that fortunately doesn’t take itself too seriously. It exists for fun and seasonal laughs and delivers what it sets out to. The dropping of the “F” bomb and a few bumps and grinds and lots of double and not so double entendres are all in fun. If you’re looking for the unusual instead of the traditional at this time of year, you could do worse than to check out The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents: A Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker. Lots of people have and keep coming back for more. In fact, that lone young adolescent will probably return next year and bring his friends.
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