NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Currently on the Bank One Theatre "boards" at the Contemporary Arts Center
is a unique act from San Francisco called Screaming Divas, which is
somewhat of a misnomer.
The five women who make up this motley crew, Melissa Baer, Danielle Nice (from New Orleans), Pamela Nissley, Lilli Oldfield and Tina Osinski are, indeed, "divas"-they all sing with abandon. The "screams" are more figurative than literal.
This act also possesses a rich technical mounting not often found in cabaret acts, where space usually can only accommodate a few stools. The Bank One Theatre affords this act with ample space for the sheer paneled setting upon which a steady stream of appropriate slides are projected, designed elegantly by Lauren Lundgren.
Described as an "interactive" entertainment, Screaming Divas is a collection of 15 musical numbers given such titles as "Whippin' Dixie"-rhythm & blues; "Ballbreaker"-The Nutcracker Suite; "Sis Boom Bah"-female high school angst done as a cheerleader exercise; "Olerobay"-Ravel's Bolero in Pig Latin; "Swamp Thang"-an original country song called "Amphibious Man," etc. The show, called Aberrant Acappella, is also a misnomer since the whole show is not acappella (a guitar is used for some numbers) but for the bulk of the show the ladies do, indeed, render their music, from the above-mentioned classics to country to 70's disco, including accompaniement, only with their vocal equipment, recalling 60's doo-wop groups. Applying this style to unlikely music does impart a certain freshness and campiness. But at 90 minutes without a break, it also become somewhat enervating.
In an effort to impart an aura of improvisation, the show is also interactive in that the audience chooses every number from a list that is hung from the ceiling with clothes pins. All this does is to underline the fact that there is really no cohesive theme running through the fifteen offerings-the titles of the fifteen numbers in themselves mean little or nothing (except for "Olerobay"), like "V," "Line-Up," "Still Life," etc. The only unifying element of the act is the intricate vocal gymnastics these five talented women employ-affecting not only a symphony but also a Big Band with saxophones, brass and lots of percussion. Just to learn these arrangements is an impressive accomplishment, but this "interactivity" precludes any kind of pace to the proceedings. In order to cover simple things like costume changes or mike cord untangling, tic tacs are passed around in lieu of a intermission break, and a roll of toilet paper is offered to wipe one's cool air conditioned brow (more "interactivity").
Although imparted with charm and affability, these two concessions only point up flaws in staging which should be corrected by Steven Zee, the director and choreographer, especially before attempting to sell the act to New York, which is the motive behind this current gig. I realize I've been mixed in my feelings about this show, which is far superior to just about any cabaret show this reviewer has seen in New Orleans. Perhaps I should be calling it a "concert" which is the realm it falls in when not being performed in a smoke-filled room with tables, chairs and alcoholic libations.
Adrian C. Benjamin tries to elude
Pauline Prelutsky in RUMORS,
Neil Simon's racous farce
now at Le Petit Theatre
[photo: Arthur Tong]