It takes a brave man to take the stage dressed as a Shakespeare-mangling tampon. But that's exactly the sort of thing writer/director Barrett Lindsay-Steiner requires of his Reel Blondes, the goofy denizens of the East Bay's longest-running musical comedy. Now in their twelfth season at Victoria's Hair on Stage in Danville, the Reel Blondes present the new The Bald and the Beautiful in the area's least likely theatrical venue: a large hair salon in a strip mall, complete with folding chairs set up between the hair dryers and the cutting stations.
The very loosely plotted show revolves around vampish "world-class hair salon" owner Blondie, who's juggling her salon, a new baby, a revolutionary hair-growth drug, and her desire for a new man. From the moment Jane Barnes arrives in an eye-stunning orange muumuu trimmed in purple marabou, ready to crack bad jokes ("marriage is like a hot bath -- after you've been in for a while, it's not so hot"), The Bald and the Beautiful careens from one oddball musical number to another. Many, if not all, skewer some element of pop culture; it helps if you've been watching television for the past, oh, thirty years, but it's not absolutely necessary. The talented cast of six women and four men zing on- and off-stage dressed as a wild variety of consumer products, fictional characters, and celebrities to prerecorded high-energy music that tends towards '80s pop but includes show tunes and TV jingles. The lyrics, though, have often been warped beyond recognition, such as Lindsay-Steiner turning "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" into "I Am a Man of Constipation" or making Joan Jett's biggest hit more amphibian-friendly as "I Love Croc 'n' Roll."
All in all, it's pretty much impossible to keep track of what's going on. A chorus line of bulls and bears in business suits gives way to a package of baby lotion, crooning to the tune of "Monster Mash" that Blondie's baby looks like corned beef hash. Women in sequined chadors tap-dance behind Mrs. Arafat as she sings "Yassir, that's my baby." Diana Ross is lampooned, American Idol's Simon admits that he's a big English twit, Winona Ryder creeps around stealing props, and Tinkerbell is played by an exceptionally hairy man in a too-small costume. This is all in the first ten minutes or so, and then things speed up.
It might seem that a massive, fluorescent-lit hair salon is not the most obvious place for this sort of thing. But cabaret-style entertainment was never meant for the legitimate theater; at its high-water mark in Germany, cabaret was most often performed in small clubs or restaurants.
In a cast thick with good dancers, seven-year Blondes vet Paula Wujek -- who also choreographs the shows -- still manages to stand out. Leggy, wild-eyed, and blessed with tremendous comic timing, Wujek's warning shot across the bow comes when she appears as an "O Pear" for Blondie's little tyke, and she never lets up. Whether she's Minnie Mouse upbraiding Mickey for not being as sensitive as "Charles" E. Cheese, or Peter Pan air-guitaring Van Halen to impress Wendy (of the hamburger chain), Wujek is as much a force of nature as anything else. Consider this interlude:
Robert Menezes as Tom Jones as the Big Bad Wolf: "Didn't I eat you already?"
Wujek as Little Red Riding Hood's lascivious grandma: "Yes, that's why I came back. Don't you want some more granny fanny?"
Vanessa Colin, who is in her first year with the Blondes, is also particularly darling as a BDSM-soaked Little Red Hiding Hood, a nun, and a hobbit (giving Lindsay-Steiner, who also performs in the show, a chance to croon "You're Getting to Be a Hobbit with Me"). John Stenger's Mrs. Doubtfire belting out "'Cause I'm a Woman" simply defies description, as do most of the drag segments of the show. The Solid Blonde Dancers show up as scantily clad pirates ("I loves me Pirate Booty," cracks Captain Hook), the scantily clad Three Little Pigs, scantily clad Lord of the Dance-styled leprechauns ... you get the idea. That last number is noteworthy from a dance perspective, as the leprechauns segue effortlessly from dancing a jig to gettin' jiggy with it.
This isn't highbrow entertainment. Several of the jokes are so old they have more hair than Blondie -- but like the occasionally painful singing, it just doesn't seem to matter here. The performers and production are wacky and exuberant enough to cover the occasional sour note or dropped gag. Some of the numbers seem like they might miss an older crowd altogether -- when Humpty Dumpty, complete with his wall, broke into Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance," I chanced a glance at the largely white, largely middle-aged and older audience, and many looked puzzled. Was there any way they were going to get this? Then there was a reference to American Idol, a show I've never seen, and I wondered if I was going to get it as the rest of the audience roared. The point is, while there may be moments that don't fly with everyone in the audience, it's all so quick there isn't time to get left behind.
And some of the bits are 100 percent guilty pleasure, like the moment where two Anna Nicole Smiths (Wujek and Barnes) start sizing up the men in the front row. "Not him, he's too young -- he's still breathing on his own," says one to the other, who has managed to get her entire head down her own cleavage in search of an errant donut crumb. Together they half-sing, half-whine their way through a Grease ballad adjusted to read, "Hopelessly Sedated ... Are You?"
Producer Vicki Brooks also designs the hard costumes (cans, boxes, and the occasional night light), which are really something, even if it starts feeling like you've fallen into some strange sidereal universe where life is one daytime television commercial after another. It's worth showing up early just to look around at the costumes from Reel Blondes' earlier incarnations, arrayed near the ceiling; everything from Jell-O to Salsa Picante. Especially impressive is the Kraft Singles package, complete with individual cheese slices sticking out of the sides. Brooks' costumes are so suggestive that she should consider sending around a ballpark-style vendor during the show, well-equipped with snack foods; by the end of the Full Monty-style "Nacho, Nacho Man" number I might have killed for a Cool Ranch Dorito.
There's black light. There's lamé. There's ABBA singing "Waterloo." If you're sitting in the first two rows, you might catch a sweaty undershirt, hold Blondie's neglected baby, or get a lap dance from Tom Jones. The show's deepest moment comes when a can of peas asks a box of Cheez-Its, "Remember when we took acid to make the world look weird? Now the world is weird." Weimar-style cabaret The Bald and Beautiful isn't; saucy, giddy fun it is.
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