by Kay Kudukis Jan. 19, 2023
Adam Karsten took the helm at CV Rep in the summer of 2022. His season opener was the quirky and rather perplexing The Humans which he followed up with Fun Home, an unconventional musical, which hit me extremely hard in the feels.
“And now,” as Monty Python would say, “for something completely different” he has brought us Claudia Shear‘s Tony-nominated Dirty Blonde, a fun, sexy, ribald romp of a story within a story chronicling the life of Mae West through two rather ordinary people with an extraordinary love of all things Mae.
If you aren’t familiar with Mae West let me tell you about the time she played The Chi Chi Club in Palm Springs. It was in the 1950s, and Mae was in her late fifties. Her act consisted of six bulging muscle men dressed in loincloths parading around her while she reclined on an eiderdown chaise drinking tea served by a black maid, comedienne Louise Beavers. It was the ultimate in camp. When a writer from Playboy asked Mae to define “camp,” she didn’t miss a beat, “Camp is the kinda comedy where they imitate me.” Oh.
Cady Huffman shines as both Mae West and as Jo, an unrealized actress, who meets Charlie (Joshua Morgan), a film archivist, at Mae West‘s crypt. They’re both there to wish Mae a posthumous happy birthday.
Jo loves Mae’s wit, she was a take-no-prisoners woman in a time when woman were more often the prisoners than the warden. Her love of Mae is dwarfed only by Charlie’s. Like Mae, Jo shares a healthy outlook toward sex (or so she tells us).
Charlie has been fascinated by Mae since he was a young boy. When he was seventeen, he would stand outside Mae’s front door with hopes of meeting her. And one day, he does. He shares those stories, photos, and all things Mae with Jo. It’s a “will they or won’t they situation” with the prerequisite wrench thrown in. But I’ll admit, it’s a pretty good wrench.
Interspersed with that, is a light-hearted romp through Mae’s past – the long vaudevillian road to her success on stage, and eventually film, is chronicled with Morgan and Broadway veteran Wiliam Ryall playing the characters that come and go in her life.
This production is all pro. All three actors can belt out a song (did I mention it’s a musical? It’s a musical), and all three have superior comic timing.
Huffman delivers all of Mae’s zingers with the appropriate sass and sexual innuendo. Her first appearance as Mae she had the house eating out of the palm of her hand.
Her Jo is fun, and although she seems to know herself well, she finds out she might have a little more to know.
Ryall has the lion’s share of the side characters, from Mae’s husband, to her companion, to her maid. He reminds me of John Malkovich and not just in looks; some of his characters have that dry delivery Malkovich does so well. On the other hand, some of his characterizations are intensely vaudevillian, but all of them are highly entertaining.
While all of the actors are terrific, there is usually one that I can’t stop watching. In this production it is Joshua Morgan. His Charlie is a sympathetic nerd, a guy who lives in the past every day, bu finally begins to enjoy his present as his relationship with Jo grows. He also plays a few side characters including W.C. Fields and a hilarious turn as a drag queen. Twice, Morgan steps to the piano and plays it brilliantly.
Director Philip Wm. McKinley has an impressive directing resume including hi-octane Broadway productions Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark and five-time Tony nominated The Boy From Oz with Hugh Jackman. He gives no less to this show. The direction is crisp, and the pace is quick keeping all eyes on the stage at all times.
Production values were also top-notch with special shout outs to Frank Cazaras’ costume design and Emma Bibo on wardrobe with additional thumbs up to Lynda Shaeps hair and makeup design. Moria Wilke’s lighting was spot-on as usual, and he sound design by Joshua Adams with Kiki Roller on audio did a great job of enhancing the action.