CHARLES PHOENIX’S GOD BLESS AMERICANA
nytheatre.com review by Liz Kimberlin
The appeal of Charles Phoenix's God Bless Americana may be
lost on anyone under 35—and most certainly anyone born after the
invention of the video-camera and cordless phone. But this show
is a thorough delight for the mid-30-somethings and up. And
bring a friend or two—it's more fun that way. Charles Phoenix,
the congenial host, invites the audience to be every bit as much
a part of his show as his presentation notes. Phoenix, a
California native (who claims to be 40) is defiantly dorked-out
in a loud, magenta, Hawaii-esque 50's leisure suit and straw
hat. The review which he presents here as "The Retro Vacation
Slide Show Tour of the USA" features amateur and travel 35mm
slides, mostly from the 50's and 60's.
August 15, 2003
So, what makes it possible that there might be something even remotely interesting about other people's travel slides, especially from an era that's gone the way of the Edsel and Shake-A-Puddin'? Phoenix, himself, for one thing—he already has earned something of a cult following in L.A—as well as his assistant D-J Haanraadts, a totally far-out dude who greets people at the door and later runs the slide projector.
Phoenix's slides run the spectrum of the era's tacky glamour and middle class pathos, not to mention endless dishes of ambrosia and bowls of dusty but decorative plastic fruit coast to coast. Early on in the tour we're just part of the crowd visiting the Grand Canyon, which apparently was that year's equivalent to being seen at Le Cirque. Men are in their best suits and hats. Women are in high heels, matching handbags, dress ensembles, gloves, jewelry, mink stoles, full make-up, very red nails and lipstick. And it's about 105 degrees before noon. There are several slides taken in hotel rooms where cocktail hour is taken very seriously indeed. Some shots are typical tourist kitsch, some mortifyingly funny, some even unintentionally lewd.
My audience of mostly strangers suddenly became like an extended family reunited for the holidays as we shared commentary on the slides. When the hour-15-ish tour finally wrapped up at Disneyland's "World of Tomorrow: 1987" attraction (which I visited as a child in 1968) with the "Carousel of Progress" soundtrack playing in the background, I was a little teary-eyed singing along, as was the guy sitting next to me. The evening was one long smile, a couple of belly laughs, and a groan or two.
Note: For anyone who doesn't know what ambrosia is or how to make it, Phoenix generously provides the recipe in the program.