Shine: A Burlesque Musical
nytheatre.com review by Ethan Angelica
August 13, 2010
Burlesque and musical theatre make for strange bedfellows. The first is a series of titillating acts that rely on the subtle art of the tease, while the other uses music and text to tell a story. Both are art forms I admire. Shine: A Burlesque Musical, appearing this year at FringeNYC, is making a valiant effort to combine the two, in what seems a genius idea that is sure to attract crowds. It's a raunchy, sexy concept, certainly not for the faint of heart (so leave the kids at home). And while it's getting close, the show suffers from a lack of story strength and seductive tease, which makes it neither a solid musical, nor a solid burlesque show.
The story centers on Shine Mionne (played by the brash, bawdy, and utterly endearing Cass King, who is also credited as one of the writers) and the Aristocrat, a theatre she inherited from her grandfather. She and her crew, a bunch of downtown burlesque artists, are threatened with foreclosure on their space if they don't pay their mortgage. Enter Richard Suit (performed to a tee by the crooning Douglas Crawford), who comes to rescue the theatre with an infusion of funds, merchandising, and commercialism. What follows is often-repetitive banter of "downtown" versus "uptown," selling out versus staying true to your art, feminism, body type and sex (of course). It's a typical "Let's put on a show!" formula a la 42nd Street, complete with snappy, almost vaudevillian quips and a few, very honest and touching moments. Yet, particularly in the first act, the forward motion is missing, and the characters rehash the same talking points. The Wet Spots' music is outstanding, yet often does very little to advance the plot. And what exactly happened to the B-story of Grace and Frankie? The roles are beautifully performed and sung by Gemma Isaac and Scott W. Abernethy, but their premise disappears after about the first 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, the show does not fully embrace its burlesque sensibilities. Much of the nudity comes extremely quickly, without giving the audience the tantalizing tease that makes burlesque so much fun. The ensemble is an exceptionally talented bunch, but appears to be a group of musical theatre dancers attempting to titillate without a real knowledge of burlesque traditions. There are two slowly-executed burlesque numbers: an extremely well-integrated bubble act and the indomitable Adra Boo Green's show-stopping strip in "Large and In Charge." These absolutely kill, and there's a reason. They give the show the seductiveness that burlesque demands, and that the audience is set up to expect.
Technically, Shine is a wonder, especially by festival standards. Director Roger Benington's set is simple, but extraordinarily evocative and effective. Andy Smith's lighting transported me to an historic burlesque hall. Choreography by Inga Ingenue and Roxie Moxie (who makes a fun turn as Shine's ward, Feral) is always fresh and inventive, especially the "school girl" number, which offers an excellent look at "corporatized" burlesque. The costumes, designed by Daniel Webster and the cast, are extraordinary.
Shine feels like a show that is almost ready. What is there is polished, extraordinarily well-performed and, often, great fun. With a tighter book and some more real burlesque acts, Shine is sure to be a hit. I certainly look forward to its next incarnation.