Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blog Exclusive Review: Madam Barker's Holiday Variety Show

Coming to Your Town to Kick Your Ass

Apparently the next and final performance of Madam Barker's Holiday Variety Show is sold out. So consider this an advisory for the next time Madam Barker (the hugely entertaining creation of Molly Brennan) does a cabaret or variety show. And that advisory is: do your best to get seats. The show isn't perfect, but there were enough moments of inspired hilarity to make it more than worth a trip. And I suggest you follow my example and get a drink beforehand.  The show doesn't need scotch, but it sure doesn't hurt.

The show is exactly what the title promises: Madam Barker, a boozy, narcissistic entertainer, sings John Fournier's songs (backed up by the alluring and seedy Barker Dames) and introduces various other acts.

Barker herself is as magnetic a character as ever--assuming you aren't offended by crudely sexual humor. Singing Fournier's tuneful and funny songs ("My Love Will Kick Your Ass" and the introductory number will be released as singles soon), flirting with audience members, or knocking back shots, she's funny with a distinct edge of danger. When she has the stage, you never quite know what will come next.

The show's main issue is in its essential nature: while many of the other acts are quite good, none are quite as funny or scary as the Barker segments (with one exception we'll get to shortly).  As a result, as the show goes on the temperature decreases slightly. It ends up genial, almost warm and fuzzy. It's never less than entertaining to watch, but I missed the edge.

But the show comes roaring back for a fantastic finish: Rick Bayless, the local chef renowned for his trio of Mexican restaurants and his appearances on Bravo's "Top Chef," made guacamole. This in and of itself would have been entertaining, but he was joined by Shank (Paul Kalina) and Bruce (Adrian Danzig), who form the group 500 Clown along with Brennan. Bayless is an excellent straight man (even when appearing in boxers and undershirt), and the clowns make merry hell of the process. It's hard to explain what they do, but when Bayless is sitting on Shank's shoulders, chopping onions on a cutting board balanced on Bruce's head, it doesn't much matter. It's sheer lunacy. (And the guacamole was delicious too.)

So if you have a seat reserved, Mazel Tov. And if not, hope she has another cabaret or solo show--and hopefully in a larger venue. Even if Bayless doesn't return, it's a great party.

Madam Barker's Holiday Variety Show plays Friday, December 11th at 11 PM the Prop Thtr, 3502 N Elston. Information at

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