Burlesque is back with the Manatee Players’ Sugar Babies.
By Kay Kipling
In tough times like these, the thirst for nostalgia runs deep. That was probably true back in 1979, when the musical revue Sugar Babies bowed on Broadway, and it’s certainly true now, as the Manatee Players present their own production of this fond look back at the genre of burlesque.
Now, we’re not talking strippers, so don’t get concerned. Although Sugar Babies, as conceived by Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby, does stay true to the roots of burlesque with scantily clad chorus girls, some risqué business and a lot of double entendres, there’s nothing rated R about it. It’s good old-fashioned, slightly dirty fun.
It all starts off with the Top Banana, as played by Dan Higgs, reminiscing about those burlesque shows of yesteryear and how he’d love to see one again. And then we get exactly that: a show with old songs by Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields and Al Dubin (I Feel a Song Coming On, Don’t Blame Me) interspersed with classic comic bits featuring stock characters like a teacher and her troublesome students, a nurse and some worried patients, a judge faced with a woman accused of killing her husband, etc. There’s no storyline, it’s just entertainment.
And it is entertaining to watch an octet of winsome sugar babies (whose grandparents probably weren’t even alive for the heyday of burlesque), tapping and posing in a variety of costumes (by Deborah Kelly Winn) designed to show off their best features and summon up the style of the era. They, and Higgs, are the show’s best assets. Higgs, a veteran of local and other stages, has just the right comic timing and audience rapport needed for his role; he’s a treat to watch, especially when dolled up in drag as the long-suffering, would-be glamorous Hortense or playing that lascivious judge who has trouble with names.
While he’s clearly the big draw here, other performers have their moments, too. Marisa R. Nelson may not be able to hold a candle to dancer Ann Miller, who starred in the original (who could?), but she sings well enough and is a good comic foil, whether playing it straight or playing along. Steve Jaquith looks the part of the Juvenile, with slicked-back hair and a clean-cut boyish face; he’s not bad in the singing department, either. As the Soubrette, Devin Shoemaker has some trouble sustaining her notes while also executing her moves, but she’s appealing and attractive. The show’s other male cast members, frequently drooling over the sugar babies, are more game than accomplished performers. But Cory Boyas’ direction gets the most out of every bit of shtick he can.
Sugar Babies continues through Jan. 24; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.