Swingin' at Jack's
nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
April 4, 2010
If you want to experience a trip back in time, to a swinging 1940s cabaret featuring a smooth jazz band, sultry show tunes, and leggy gals suspended in midair, check out Swingin' at Jack's Aerial Circus Cabaret at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO. A dimly lit lounge with steel-island seating atop a lake of water, Galapagos is a place to check out all on its own.
Upon entrance, you'll be greeted by a French Maitre' d, played by Michelle Dortignac, and mingle with friendly cigarette girls, who sell handfuls of candy (and candied cigarettes) for a dollar. While sipping a cocktail or two (there is a $15 drink minimum), the crowd is greeted by MC and club owner Jack (Ben Franklin), dressed in red slacks, striped tie, and suspenders to match. He lets us know the show will begin shortly, though he is sad to announce that this may be one of the last for his beloved speakeasy, due to financial difficulties. Before he can finish his rehearsed speech, a redhead in a sparkly gown runs into the joint towards the stage. Jack introduces her as Vicky Lee (Victoria Cave), an old friend who has returned from singing in Europe. He invites her to sing for us, and she feigns surprise before grabbing the mic. This dialogue between Jack and Vicky is kind of campy, but that's not what this show is about.
Moments later, Dortignac is seated with utter calm on a cloud swing (a large U-shaped rope hanging from the ceiling) in the center of the space. She performs a seductive routine as Vicky Lee croons. Dortignac's control of the rope is mesmerizing; you can't take your eyes off her, nor the rest of the circus performers, which include Joshua Dean, Ben Franklin, Angela Jones, and Kristin Olness. The jazz band, led by Peter Kiesewalter (aka Peter "Keys" Daniels) is top-notch, utilizing trumpet, trombone, piano, upright bass, saxophone, and percussion, and accompanying familiar tunes such as Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" and Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine." The music nicely compliments the aerial work, which includes single and partner balancing acts on cloud swing, trapeze, and aerial hoops.
The evening is visually and aurally sensational. It's a wonder how these performers make each move look so easy. One of the most memorable acts is "Big Spender," in which all three ladies perform simultaneously from a swinging trapeze; their stockinged leg movements are hypnotic. The finale involving the whole company in aerial hoops to "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)" is also fantastic and features a beautiful adagio between Jones and Dean.
While the plot points concerning the potential closing of Jack's are cheesy, it's amusing that the performers remain in character, talking freely to the audience throughout the evening. Swingin' at Jack's is a show the whole family can enjoy but also a great idea for a date. Though the storyline is superfluous, nothing compares to the beauty of the muscled bodies swinging above and the wonderful live band and vocals as a backdrop for our awe.