by B.P. Billy
Last Saturday night was the latest installment of Nelson Lugo and Shaffer the Dark Lord’s series of entertainments predicated on puerile pleasures. Last time around it was “Video Game Vixens.” This time it’s “Cartoons!” The genre of entertainment is burlesque, and the conceit is “Saturday morning when we were kids.” The tagline for the show ran thusly: “the boys and girls celebrate cartoons and the brightly-colored foxes that star in them. Pour a bowl of Cap’N Crunch and gather ’round the boob tube, because this month, EPIC WIN is gonna party like it’s Saturday morning!” Yes indeedy. Six lovely ladies did burlesque routines as six fairly well known Saturday morning cartoon females: Miss Mary Cyn as Bugs Bunny (dressed as a chick — natch), Lefty Lucy as Bubbles from the Powerpuff Girls, Victoria Privates as the chick who sang “Unpack Your Adjectives” on Schoolhouse Rock (Blossom Dearie), Bonnie Voy’age as She-Ra, BB Heart as Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop, Magdalena Fox as April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The show was held at The Tank on 45th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. It is also, coincidentally, down the street from Sweet Carolines, where the Famous Pontani Sisters are performing “This Is Burlesque”, and on the same block you’ll find Private Eyes, which is a wonderfully seedy strip joint where the bouncers tell you in no uncertain terms that there is no sex in the champagne room! (If the boss is watching.) Private Eyes is properly what you call “adult entertainment”; EPIC WIN Burlesque is what you call “alt art-ertainment.” The former is for men who are old enough to grow hair on their backs; the latter is for kids of any age (but mostly in their 20s) who love boobies and gadgets with equal ardor.
I tip my hat to Shaffer the Dark Lord and Nelson Lugo. This idea has equal measures nostalgia and kink, like eating Captain Crunch in bourbon. And they play it to the hilt. At mid-show the pair walked on to the stage dressed as their favorite Saturday morning villains Cobra Commander and The Purple Pie Man. The joke — of course — is that Lugo’s fantasies as a kid were kid-like, sexually ambiguous and naive compared to Shaffer’s which were real American hero. It reminded one of that feeling, the nameless itch that tickled you while you were watching these animated ladies. It was a child’s premonition of the secret world of adults, and now as adults we look back on those hopelessly lost moments of delicious anticipation with not-quite-adult cynicism and nostalgia. Hence Lugo’s pie man mustache and obligatory “pie” jokes.
I won’t lie to you, some of the acts were better than others. Some riffs on the concept weren’t very clever, and the show brought in less than a full house. There were maybe twenty-five people in attendance, and over half of those people were friends of the cast. Not that audience is a metric of artistic merit, but it doesn’t hurt the performers’ egos to have a house full of interested strangers. (It also impresses a reviewer.) On the other hand, I love the fact that someone has the guts to experiment so freely with the burlesque form. Everyone’s a winner.
Doing Bugs Bunny in a burlesque number isn’t as easy as you might think it would be. Bugs is male, but cuz he’s a twicksy wabbit, he cross dresses more than Benny Hill. The natural choice is to play Bugs as one of his many incarnations as a woman. Hillbilly Hare and the Rabbit of Seville come to mind. Mary Cyn made the best possible choice to play him as Brunhilda in What’s Opera Doc. It’s inspired, really, because Bugs loses his bra and skirt just like a burlesque act, and Mary Cyn got to play the tragically murdilated bunny in her burlesque act.
Lefty Lucy was perfect as Bubbles from the Powerpuff Girls. LL’s big eyes and expressive features and her long, blond hair brought the celluloid superheroine to life on stage. (Bubbles has the added value of being one cartoon I watched only as an adult, which produced the above mentioned tickle without a hint of childish nostalgia.) The last three acts did a respectable job of playing their parts. Though neither She-Ra, Faye Valentine, nor April O’Neil did much for me in the world of cartoons, the ladies put a lot of guts and grit into their routines, particularly BB Heart, who has great stage presence.
The most interesting act was Victoria Privates’s version of the song “Unpack Your Adjectives” from School House Rock. The concept was great: She used stick-on signs the way some women use giant feather fans. And satisfyingly for a werd nerd, each label had three or four layers of irony. (You get just the smallest inkling of it from the picture above.) Best — and nerdiest — of all, it wasn’t an imitation of a hot female cartoon character. Lord knows the chick in the school house rock cartoon was fugly. But that leap of imagination from literal imitation to semi-nude literary figuration was hot. No other metaphor will do. And I think Victoria Privates would make any celluloid female look truly two-dimensional by comparison.
Shaffer the Dark Lord did a funny rap about how hot nerdy girls are. I think in the rap vernacular it’s called “spitting”. As in, “nerds was gettin’ crazy up in here, yo! STD was spiitin’ up on deez bitches all nite!” Which brings us back to the theme of infancy remembered in adulthood. I get the feeling the Dark Lord is the mad genius behind the show, and his musical number was a fitting tribute to the ladies who made the show.