Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque & The Broadway Musicals of 1975
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The admirable mission of Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams, writer/performers of Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque, is to remove some of the awkwardness in open discussions about human sexuality by treating intimate issues with humor. Their modestly produced show, which just completed a week-long run at Los Kabayitos, is obviously built to travel, coming to Gotham via stints in Philly and DC, and the amiable pair pulls off their mission with endearing enthusiasm.
Twelve quick vignettes – sketches, songs and dance pieces – alternate with video segments of the two as stuffy schoolteachers and others of a group of women individually responding to questions addressing topics like their definition of sex, how they learned about sex and how they, as adults, have taught their children about sex.
With no director or choreographer credited, I would assumed that Naglak and Williams managed those task themselves, and perhaps the show would best be viewed as a promising work in progress that could use further guidance.
Much of their humor is of the sophomoric, one-joke variety. Naglak dances as a ballerina clad in white, who expresses joy and relief when her period visibly arrives. The two of them play cooking show hosts who, after a few too many glasses of wine, start demonstrating on a dildo their favorite way to eat chocolate frosting. Naglak, standing behind an artificial lower torso, discusses birth control options with her talking vagina. Sketches of this nature might seem a little crass coming from men, but perhaps women might find these lowbrow depths refreshing coming from other women.
But lowbrow is actually highbrow in another sketch where they play out Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene as two horny adolescents masturbating, a concept that makes complete sense when you figure that Shakespeare’s youthful lovers are more realistically a couple of kids who barely know each other at the beginnings of their sexual awareness. Another clever sketch begins with a slideshow detailing important information about STDs which is upstaged when the two start performing a strip-tease down to pasties and g-strings; a smart comment on how thoughts of sexual health get shoved to the side when encountering titillation.
Other vignettes include Williams’ monologue about a woman’s obsession with being perfectly shaved for a date, a song explaining the difference between transsexuals and transvestites and a fan dance performed by Naglak. Most were pleasant, but lacking in comedic sharpness beyond their initial ideas.
There was a talkback after the performances I attended, where Naglak and Williams chatted about their experiences regarding sex education and of the evolution of their show. Speaking off-the-cuff, their remarks were far more interesting and humorous than most of the material they performed. If the pair can inject the evening with more of the honest, realistic humor displayed in the talkback, Chlamydia Dell'Arte could prove more worthy of its admirable intentions.
Photo of Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams by Lauren Schwarz.
Broadway musicals were in a crazy state of flux by 1975. That newfangled idea of attracting new audiences through well-produced television commercials was turning shows that might not have lasted long through traditional publicity into multi-year running hits (That year The Wiz was rescued from a quick closing by its commercial.), but the new audiences attending those shows were venturing into a theatre district overflowing with porno houses, hookers and three-card monte con artists. Those in the know knew it was dangerous to hang around Times Square after the shows let out, but good luck riding the subways at night.
Two of musical theatre’s most notable director/choreographers helmed their greatest achievements, though Michael Bennett’s optimistic salute to the unknowns who chase their dreams, A Chorus Line, was stealing headlines from Bob Fosse’s first post-heart attack creation, the comically cynical Chicago. Rock composers were trying to replicate the success of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, but The Rocky Horror Show failed to find an audience and theatre-goers preferred Shenandoah, a traditional book musical with an anti-war message, over The Lieutenant, a rock opera about the My Lai massacre that lasted a week on Broadway but was admired enough to pick up Tony nominations for its book and score. Goodtime Charley tried to replicate the success of Pippin with its stylistic telling of the story of Joan of Arc, but the decision to focus on the less interesting character, the dauphin Charles, doomed the effort of an attractive and clever Grossman and Hackady score.
The days of jukebox musicals were yet to come, but audiences seeking some fine old material were found at the revue Rodgers and Hart and the bio-musical, Me and Bessie (featuring songs made famous by Bessie Smith). And Scott Joplin’s score for his 1910 opera, Tremonisha, only recently discovered at the time, made its Broadway debut and even picked up a Tony nomination.
For the 1975 edition of Town Hall’s Broadway By The Year series, host and creator Scott Siegel concentrated on the more recognizable songs of the day; both those that were being heard on Broadway for the first time and those that were already American Songbook classics that lured audiences into new shows.
A new feature to the series was large chorus of performers made up primarily of talent in the early stages of their careers. The Broadway By The Year Chorus opened the show with two of the indispensible moments of 1975 Broadway, A Chorus Line’s “I Hope I Get It,” segueing into “One,” staged by the evening’s choreographer, Vibecke Dahle.
Speaking of A Chorus Line, there was quite a bit of chucking from the audience when it became apparent that Ashley Brown, known primarily as Broadway’s original Mary Poppins, was about to perform “Dance 10, Looks 3” as her first solo of the evening. Her saucy rendition of Marvin Hamlish and Ed Kleban’s tribute to the career-enhancing benefits of plastic surgery was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, as was her emphatic belting of “I Am My Own Best Friend” and her tender “Be A Lion.”
While I will always be opposed to using the watered-down radio lyrics for Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” over the overtly sexual ones written for Pal Joey, if it must be done that way it’s fortunate to have Lari White performing them; replacing the droll lustfulness of the original with luscious waves of lush romanticism. The Grammy-winning country artist – who has a real flair for musical theatre – was, of course, a natural for selections from Shenandoah, including a lovely “We Make A Beautiful Pair” and leading the chorus in a rousing “Freedom.”
Cabaret artist Carole J. Bufford has quickly become a rising star among the nightlife set and her ravishing interpretations of “Blue Moon” and the Bessie Smith standards, “You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon” and “After You’ve Gone” display captivating interpretive skills and a professional polish well above what would be expected for her youth.
The above three ladies united for “At The Ballet,” demonstrating Kleban’s extraordinary character-developing skills.
Bob Stillman’s airy vocals gave a period feel to “All I Care About” and warm sentimentality to “The Only Home I Know.” The difference between his voice and the deep dramatics of Patrick Page’s enhanced the already sharp comedy of Kander and Ebb’s “Class.” Page’s grave earnestness was put to fine use for the year’s most controversial song, Shenandoah’s anti-war anthem, “I’ve Heard It All Before” and the fun campy quality he brings to his current gig as Spider-Man’s Green Goblin cropped up when he donned a corset and feather boa to lead the chorus in a pairing of “Sweet Transvestite” and “Time Warp.”
The concert’s director, Scott Coulter, made a solid guest appearance for an inspiring “If You Believe,” as did Kristin Beth Williams for “All That Jazz” and Nadine Iseneggar, performing Michael Bennett’s original choreography for “The Music And The Mirror.”
With Ross Patterson in his usual position leading his Little Big Band, the evening ended with the full company’s “What I Did For Love.”
Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: Carole J. Bufford; Bottom: Oakley Boycott, Patrick Page and Emily Iaquinta.
Posted on May 21, 2012 - by
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About the Author:After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.