The Toughest Girl Alive!
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
August 20, 2011
With a life as full and varied and strange and Candye Kane’s, it can be difficult to decide where to start. To look at her now, possibly middle-aged, with soft, telling eyes, long brown hair and bangs that make you think of Archie comics, this woman is really something of a mystery. Many of you have heard of Ms. Kane or seen her in her myriad media forms. She has posed in adult magazines and performed in live nude reviews and has been featured in adult films. These things, however, make up about one percent of who she really is.
Did you know, for example, that Ms. Kane is a musician and singer? That she has performed punk, country and the blues? That she writes her own songs and music? Did you know that she is the proud mother of two beautiful sons? People may claim to know everything about Ms. Kane. They may have made judgments about her based on what little (or in some cases what a LOT) they’ve seen of her, but likely those assumptions are incorrect. Luckily, Ms. Kane has fearlessly decided to share the story of her life and the reasons behind decisions that determined the course of her life to bring her in front of us today.
I didn’t know much about Candye—sorry, just can’t keep calling her “Ms. Kane” and I think she would probably hate that—and thought I might be seeing a drag version of someone inspired by her. I also thought I would be seeing a comedy. And, while much of what Candye has to offer is told with humor, very little of her story is actually funny. Some of what she relays is scary and often violent or degrading, but through all of it, one thing remains clear: Candye is the real thing.
There were times during her anecdotes where I had tears in my eyes, where I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There were time when I wanted to cheer or shout out a “Hell yeah!” but refrained—it’s just not that kind of show. I won’t spoil one moment of Candye’s story—it’s hers to tell and she has clearly earned the right to decide to tell it now, in this way—but I can assure you that Candye will surprise you, and she will move you.
Candye and her fabulous band comprised of Sue Palmer on keyboards (and at one point the accordion), Laura Chavez on guitar, Kennan Shaw on bass and Evan Caleb on drums, perform songs (music and words by Candye) live. The songs are all good, and the collective is succinct and well-timed. If this band hasn’t been playing together for ages it doesn’t show. They seem very tight-knit, happy to be there and engaged in what they are doing. To be clear, this is not a musical. Think of The Toughest Girl Alive! as VH1’s Storytellers series, only more glamorous and with a pulse.
Candye is also joined by two very talented co-performers, Robert Kirk and Bethany Slomka, who also sing (quite well) and who serve as all the people revolving in and out of Candye’s world. The lights, minimal set and sound, all managed by Philippe Bergman (technical director), Annie Chabert (crew), and Heather Mallory (sound crew) as well as Javier Velasco’s subdued direction, make you feel more like you’re sitting on the other side of Candye’s coffee table than 50 feet away from her elevated stage.
And that’s really the key to making all this work. Candye seems more comfortable and familiar with performing concerts than theatrical endeavors, as indicated by her soft voice and timing. None of that matters, and, in fact, makes the show better than it would be if she came off as overly-processed and slick. That’s not Candye at all. Candye is, however soft-spoken she may be, honest and frank at all times, even when discussing experiences that will very likely upset you. And she is anything but timid, as evidenced by her choosing to tell her tale to a live audience and also present political views that are not going to be shared by everybody, including her feelings on abortion and sex workers. The distinctive factor here is that Candye speaks from experience and never gets preachy.
I save the matter of Candye’s voice for last for several reasons. One, you may not expect to experience such rich, robust vocal stylings from a woman who is so matter-of-fact about things like appearing on the cover of Juggs. Two, when you do hear her voice the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up. Her voice is rich and buttery and not unlike the sensation that follows imbibing a hot toddy. Her voice, and her manner, make you feel like you’ve just come in from a blustery winter storm to a soft blanket in front of a warm fire. (You get the picture, right?). Three, Candye’s voice—her singing ability, her musical talent—was always the thing about her people were overlooking; they were too busy summing her up and dismissing her based on her appearance. Well, she won’t be overlooked anymore. Now that I’ve heard that voice I can’t get it out of my head. Thank goodness for CDs.