American Vaudeville Theatre 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 17, 2011
Trav S.D. is back, doing one of the things he does best, namely serving as top banana in one of his trademark neo-vaudeville variety shows, which bears the impressively lengthy moniker The American Vaudeville Theatre 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza.
The show begins with Mr. S.D., in a silly safari hat, a Groucho greasepaint moustache, and Bobby Clark painted-on eyeglasses, forcing one of his stooges to read the hyper-inflated intro that he has indubitably written for himself. The antics escalate during the 90-minute revue. Mr. S.D. introduces a roster of talented artists—different at each performance, so your results will be different from mine—and clowns in any number of ways in between the acts: he juggles, he does impressions, he headlines one of his own terrifically clever sketches (about an office where everyone speaks in rhyme). He does all of these things in a way that is inimitable and original and entirely in the debt of the great vaudevillians who came before him (not just the ones he pays tribute to with his makeup, but also folks like Frank Fay, W.C. Fields, Ted Healy, and many others). I am a huge fan of Mr. S.D., and—disclaimer—the publisher of two of his plays; it's a delight to see him in his element, on top of a bill that would be two-a-day if we still did that sort of thing.
As stated, the lineup at each performance of the ExTRAVaganza is different. Mine included the always hilarious Juliet Jeske as Princess Sunshine, mangling children's songs on her accordion in order to teach the little darlings useful life lessons about adultery, sex, and other important grown-up subjects; the equally outrageous Sarah Engelke as Strega Nona, a fortune teller who reads the future in strands of spaghetti; Jenny Lee Mitchell as Dierdre, an opera singer who regales us with a surprising confessional; and the very ingratiating and talented juggler Keith Leaf, whose repertoire includes knives, pins, balls, and three skulls (which he juggles while performing Hamlet's most famous soliloquy).
On the bill every time are the Five Sizzling Fajitas, who do (sizzle, that is); and a septet of supporting players comprising Patrick Thomas Cann (who has a show-stopping moment of his own too special to be spoiled here), David Gochfeld, Josh Hartung (who sings "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" charmingly with the thickest Scottish accent ever), Michael Lester, C.L. Wetherstone, Michael Townsend Wright, and Colin Pritchard, who gets the finale to himself, tapping and singing a storm to Mr. S.D.'s own composition, "New York's a Patriotic Town."
Kudos to Becky Byers, who is the choreographer, and Albert Garzon, who is the musical director/accompanist.
As with any vaudeville presentation, variety is the key here. If you don't like what's happening now, wait five minutes. With the splendidly wry Trav S.D. as the guide for this particular ExTRAVaganza, you can't go too far wrong.