Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
Theatre 80 St. Marks in conjunction with Tweed Theater Works is presenting The Gold Dust Orphans production of “Mildred Fierce” after successful runs in Boston and Florida. The show is based more upon Ranald MacDaugall’s screenplay of the famous Joan Crawford movie than the source of that movie, James M. Cain’s book recently re-done as an Emmy winning TV series. With Varla Jean Merman in the role of Mildred, the musical show with book and lyrics by Ryan Landry, many spectacular costumes by Scott Martino, and choreography by John Pirroni and Meredith Langton and direction by James P. Berne the mastermind behind the Gold Dust Orphans based in Boston, the show is full of campy choreography, two dimensional colorful sets designed by Amelia Gossett and Lauren Duffy (which have posters of famed film noirs on them,) and a cast of at least 13 performers, many of whom double. Mildred’s successful restaurants are called “Mildred’s Pie Hole.”
Well, the packed audience at the first performance in New York had a great time. Not since the days of the Theater of the Ridiculous has there been such a smutty wonderful show! Many of the famous roles are played by cross genders. Penny Champagne plays the evil selfish daughter Veda who desires an elephant for a pet (she gets it and the trunk of the elephant and the elephant‘s trunk is one of the funniest set pieces with its interaction with Mildred). Olive Another plays the Eve Arden part of Ida, Mildred’s friend, Pirroni plays the Jack Carson part, Wally, and Chris Loftas plays Bert, Mildred‘s wandering husband. The woman he leaves Mildred for is played by a buxom blond whose sado-masochistic sexual activities leave nothing to the imagination. Monty, the Zachary Scott character who marries Mildred for her money, is played by R. J. Marley who resembles and speaks like Truman Capote. The first time we see him he is decked out in a Cleopatra outfit performing a campy number with chorus boys and girls in Egyptian outfits.
For the record, the hard working chorus of singers and dancers are Gary Croteau, Robin Javonne Smith, Rosalie Norris, and Raaid Cotman, There is also a running commentary by a Bette Davis character who plays downstage left as Mildred in mink and Joan Crawford shoes who confesses to the police in flashback. There are many Busby Berkeley like musical numbers and it was only in those big chorus numbers that I suspected lip-synching. Most of the extremely raunchy numbers are sung by the leads, with Varla Jean Merman and Olive Another, getting most of the big laughs in outrageous actions and great songs. Oh, yes, getting a great hand on his entrance, was creator Landry in the Butterfly McQueen part, as well as snotty Mrs. Forrester and another character. Landry has the visage of Margaret Hamilton. An example of the plot twists is when Veda is thrown out by Mildred, she gets a job in Monty’s nightclub as a sleazy stripper. A running gag is Mildred can never remember her other daughter’s name. Landry’s production numbers borrow from post ‘40s musicals like “Guys and Dolls,” “Gypsy,” and “Annie” and there is a big “42nd Street” production number. As well as the hefty Wally, there is another bear like man who dances up a storm with the ensemble.
I just have to say that you must see this show. It is one of the funniest, raunchiest shows in town and if you loved the Ridiculous shows you’ll revel in this production. Opening night’s cheering audience included Charles Busch, Julie Halston, and Michael Musto.
There is a bar and a wonderful crepe restaurant in the lobby adjacent to the theater. Drinks are reasonable and so is the great food.
Mildred Fierce which won the “Best New Musical 2013” Elliot Norton Award in Boston plays at Theatre 80 St. Marks, 80 Saint Marks Place, between First and Second Avenues, Saturdays and Sundays through October. Performances are at 8:30 PM and 10:30 PM on Saturdays and at 3:30 PM on Sundays. I suspect this weekend schedule is because many of the cast commute from Boston.
Go to http://www.brownapertickets.com/event/380329. for tickets.
Photos: Michael Von Redlich