Christopher Fitzgerald, a naturally bouncy and endearing actor, plays real-life burlesque impresario Billy Minsky, who desperately keeps the show alive despite being trapped in the Depression and facing a revival of staunch Republicanism. In fact, to keep his club open, he has to battle a reactionary politico (George Wendt), who is riding on a ticket that would benefit from Minsky's arrest. To further complicate matters, Minsky has fallen in love with the politico's prissy daughter (the plucky Katherine Leonard).
Besides the fact that the famed striptease that put Minsky on the map really took place five years before the show's time frame, the book's biggest contrivance is the second-act plot where the heroine and her father attempt to infiltrate the evil den of iniquity. This harebrained scheme -- which is like something Lucy Ricardo would attempt -- is so extreme that the heroine's intelligence (and sanity) is questionable.
Having already captured Depression-era song stylings in his megahit Annie, it's not surprising that Strouse has written another delightful score echoing this period. Susan Birkenhead's lyrics are filled with innuendos and intentionally bad puns that are also perfect for the period -- like a chorus girl dressed like a lobster singing "I have a haddock. Not tonight." The first act finale "Every Number Needs a Button" is an informative lesson on the art of burlesque humor.
Director and choreographer Casey Nicolaw keeps the show's pace at a breakneck speed, so even the most overblown jokes leave the audience winded from laughing. He also peppers the book with visual jokes like the cops' guns going off when beautiful showgirls walk by. Moreover, his dances perfectly mimic the era's style with a snarky towel striptease and a standout tap number utilizing the vastly talented dancers. (Gregg Barnes' lascivious costumes, including naughty crustaceans, American flags, and Bongo halter tops, also really make one's heart beat.)
In addition to the smartly cast Fitzgerald, Leonard, and Wendt, the show boasts such top-notch talents as Tony Award winner Beth Leavel, who is the soul of the piece as Billy's assistant, and former Saturday Night Live star Rachel Dratch, who almost steals the show with her deadpan delivery of "I Want A Life" with the equally game John Cariani.
While this extremely fictionalized version of how striptease invaded the world of burlesque is not nearly as accurate as the most famous view of the sassy art form, Gypsy, it's totally enjoyable as a glimpse into the long-lost world of broad jokes and titillating dances.
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