Thursday, March 19 was the opening night of Jewels of Paris, a Thrillpeddlers production self-described as “a revolutionary new Parisian revue”. The cabaret comprised sixteen bouncy songs composed by Scrumbly Koldewyn, interspersed with bawdy skits. Think Moulin Rouge except more campy, plus lots of nudity. I watched the first act and thought, This is slapstick burlesque at its slappiest and stickiest! However, your mileage may vary. Sitting behind me, two audience members grumbled that usually the nudity was more prolific. By my standards the nakedness was generous! Compared to the typical theater experience, Jewels of Paris featured boobs and butts galore. Also, a couple of cocks. More than a couple of cocks. This is a ballpark guess, but I’m thinkin’ at least five cocks.
For those unfamiliar with the group, Thrillpeddlers is a bohemian theater company that could safely be called “obscure”, despite winning awards for the 2011 show Pearls Over Shanghai. Their home venue is the Hypnodrome, an easy-to-miss establishment on 10th Street, under a freeway overpass. Walk twenty minutes from Civic Center BART and you’re there!
Jewels of Paris was a lot of fun. The actors were enthusiastically ridiculous. Vocal performances could have been stronger — Roxanne RedMeat and Noah Haydon were the standout voices, while others sounded strained — but I don’t blame Thrillpeddlers for that. It’s hard to sing loud enough to keep up with a piano without stressing your throat. (Presumably the Hypnodrome doesn’t have the budget for an advanced sound system.) The cheery, catchy music evoked the time period very well, making me think of old-school burlesque, or a circus. Unfortunately the lyrics were somewhat lackluster — the chorus of a particularly touching number was just “Oh, what a world” repeated four times. On the other hand, a lot of it was funny as hell. Especially if you’re familiar with Parisian culture and the Lost Generation. In fact, the legendary Gertrude Stein had the first solo number; she performed a clever rap about sexy French ladies. Plus, you know, the general Frenchness of the French. Oui oui, ma cherie!