Sin city


Johnny Canuck and the Last Burlesque
by Jeremy Hechtman and Patrick Goddard
directed by Jeremy Hechtman
MainLine Theatre

We're probably not yet in the midst of a true revival, but renewed and scattered interest in Cabaret Burlesque carries sinfully on in this city.

Think of Holly Gauthier-Frankel's last year Fringe stunner Miss Sugarpuss and Her Burley-Q Revue, recent shows from Bluelight Burlesque at the revamped Corona Theatre and at La Sala Rossa, "pop stripteaseuses" duo The Coral Lees and now, um, Johnny Canuck.

Whaa? Johnny Canuck and the Last Burlesque is the maple-syrupy moniker of the latest project from Montreal Fringe founders Patrick Goddard and Jeremy Hechtman, their first at the new MainLine Theatre space they launched last October. The show is built around a pulpy Canadian comic hero who's jumped off the page; he's now out to save an imperilled cabaret troupe from the puritan clutches of the Montreal Morality Squad led by Mayor Drapeau's right hand man, Pax Plante.

A mix of real and imagined characters from the '30s and '40s, Johnny Canuck... is a mad vaudevillian cocktail that shakes up Montreal's rich history of burlesque, the Marx brothers, and even Adolph Hitler.

Goddard and Hechtman slap it together with the requisite frantic pacing, titillation, rim-shot humour, belted out torch songs, dreamy ballads, jiggling girls, and buffoonery—all things originally meant to hit audience libidos like a prize-fighter punch.

Here, though, we see how hard that recipe is to get right. You need not only a sympathetic crowd and good songs and jokes, but a bit of that whatever-it-is pixie dust that comes from a cast and director believing in their own story—not merely mugging for laughs. Where Sugarpuss, say, was a fully realized production that seemed to float along effortlessly, Johnny Canuck is a labored and strained affair, coming off as a sketch of burlesque without the spark to ignite it.

ALTDESCRIPTION Individual performances work better than the production. Catherine Bérubé's mute role as The Maid is terrific, all waify-eyed longing, and one of the best things about the show, while pasty-clad Patricia Summersett as The Star has the right combo of sly sexiness and Dietrichian weltschmerz.

Aaron Turner's Johnny Canuck and Neil Napier in his dual roles of Drapeau and Hitler (!) both get laughs in playing up the cartoonish possibilities of their characters.

Thought balloon-ish questions popped up throughout the show: why a trio of Marx brothers knockoffs? Why does Pax Plante have a Parisian accent? Why is the damn production so long?

It's a show that needs tighter cues, less mugging, more singers, and a different venue. MainLine Theatre, though full of potential, is still under development and has a way to go before it can provide the needed warmth and intimacy for a cabaret.

Johnny Canuck and the Last Burlesque continues to February 12, 2006.
MainLine Theatre 3997, boul. St-Laurent
Performances run from Wednesday Feb. 8 to Sunday Feb. 12, 2006
Tickets: 514.849.FEST

[ photo: Cindy Lopez ]

- Neil Boyce

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