January 6, 2014 5:18 pm

La Soirée, Union Square Theatre, New York – review

This evening of circus, vaudeville and burlesque is more sporty than naughty
Hamish McCann in 'La Soirée'©Max Gordon

Hamish McCann in 'La Soirée'

“Whatever happened to class?” sings Mama Morton in the musical Chicago. After watching La Soirée, the plotless, circus-meets-vaudeville-meets-burlesque array of acts at the Union Square Theatre, I am tempted to lament: “Whatever happened to naughty?” The near-naked acrobats in this lively offering, much of which was seen in New York in 2006 under the title Absinthe, make one fantasise less about sex and more about changing one’s gym workout.

Exhibiting a shrewd awareness of just who attends off-Broadway theatre, the producers of La Soirée have their male performers do the more serious stripping. Denis Lock and Hamish McCann, billed as the English Gents, sport pinstripes and bowler hats, illustrating a 1950s attitude when Profumo was not even a whiff in the London air.


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By the time the gents have completed their acrobatic gyrations, however, we have design-wise moved closer to our own time – an age when even the tiniest of tots have seen mounds of flesh on the iPad. So where’s the shock? One ends up admiring the sporty discipline more than experiencing any frisson of transgression.

Even Stephen Williams, who should knock David Beckham aside in a contest for the next Armani underwear advert, does not quite achieve naughtiness. He disports in a water-filled bathtub, wearing Naples-tight jeans and making use of two straps slithering down from the ceiling. My companion for this two-hour evening whispered, “Isn’t that sweet? I saw something similar on America’s Got Talent.”

I confess to having had a better time with the female performers, who beautifully fulfilled my requirements for a dream date: sexy plus funny. Ursula Martinez did a striptease to the strains of Henry Mancini. Miss Behave swallows swords, a physiological feat that managed to suggest but not show something else.

The musical taste of the show, whose creative producer is Brett Haylock, is classically louche: Weimar. A singer named Meow Meow paid tribute to the fictional totem of 1920s Berlin: Sally Bowles. Meow did a version of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (the 1930s standard, not the Green Day version) that was marvellously atmospheric.

The roster of performers in La Soirée does evolve somewhat, so I cannot promise that you will see and hear everyone described above. But I can guarantee that you will see men and women to make you redouble your New Year’s resolution to get fit – or to insist that your partner make good on theirs.


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