If the hope is that a Fringe show will one day be living and breathing on a Broadway stage, it is quite exciting to think that the “Great White Way” would then be offering up such juicy, audacious and still reverently based material that SHINE: A Burlesque Musical showed off in this year’s New York Fringe Festival. This fantastic future cult-classic was thriving with a gritty and legitimate take on New York’s nightlife history, complete with sass, smarts, scandal – and of course, skin. Though, as the NYU liberal arts student Grace notes, while undressing right into an “internship” with the failing, but historic Aristocrat Theater: “its not like strippers, its different.”
The writers have clearly lived this world and use smart, clear and compelling choices in the telling of this world to the lay persons, who otherwise may be inexperienced with Burlesque. In the midst of respecting the genre perimeters of Musical Theatre, co-writers Cass King, John Woods & Sam Dulmage successfully shed light on how urban renewal can neglect and, in fact, snuff out the essence of a vibrant sub-culture. It is a delightful jab at neo burlesque and traditional values of performance colliding in the midst this New York doctrine of money and space. Also endearingly woven in, in a very “wave your freak flag” kind of way, is the diehard notion that “everyone wants to be a star.” The writers have great instincts offering plenty of meat – and skin – to this brassy, bold and beautiful cast bustling its way into the mainstream, but clearly in their own way. No selling out here.
The cast is colorful and eclectic. Besides the gorgeous and consistently energetic ensemble members woven throughout in sideshows and costume parades, there is a Freddy Mercury inspired Topeka, former geek looking for love and stardom, an insightful yet virginal NYU student blossoming in this world of misfits, a dazzling and sassy old-school diva named LuLu, a hardcore gentrification guru, Richard Suit, and of course, the blazingly and exceedingly effervescent (or passed out) leader of the pack, Shine Mionne - who is as visually striking as Cruella Deville. Though it didn’t really bother me too much, there could be just a bit more character development if this is headed to a bigger stage. I found myself more mesmerized by the environment and how everyone fit and didn’t fit within it, and was often uninterested in the romantic connections being made or the personal journeys of the characters. It didn’t so much take away from my experience, but it is certainly a place for the show to grow. There was however, a TON of legitimacy in the casting choices, many of which displayed talents of clearly experienced Burlesque performers and vagabond entertainers.
The music, written by The Wet Spots (www.wetspotsmusic.com), was surprisingly refreshing in its quality. There were fun numbers like the almost Britney Spears parody "Girls Gone Wild" and one of my favorites "Dirty." And there were touching numbers, a highlight being when the Janitor (Co-Writer John Woods) simply sings a soothing lullaby amidst the commotion which taking over the old vaudeville house. Everything made sense musically and was rich enough to allow a deeply engrained wisdom of experience to balance out the hijinks and overriding festive air.
SHINE includes the best aspects of Burlesque: in your face realness, bawdy humor, unapologetic showmanship and some very inventive ways of undressing. It could not have been named more appropriately. With haunting and well-rounded music and a succinct and artful book, this richly costumed and vivacity driven show pulls off a unique blend of mayhem and reverence for the sometimes seemingly fading art of Burlesque. The cast tells quite effectively through inventive staging, no-holds-barred humor and ball-breaking belting, just what it means to have this dream of simply being able to perform, to raise their voice and let their truth be heard – no matter what the method to that madness may be. The performers candidly move the story along, raising the level of awareness of merging a starry-eyed hopeful performer’s life with the reality of everyday survival. The mission? To stay true to themselves and their art while foregoing compliance with the often dominating machine of gimmiks and finance. I'd buy a ticket to that anyday.